It would be decidedly grown-up and responsible for McDonald's to withdraw the lawsuit, invite Signore Raspelli to dinner... and give him something else to occupy his food musings. McDonald's Turns to the Dark Side

We have frequently railed against those who seem compelled by either greed or irresponsibility to file frivolous lawsuits against McDonald's, among a variety of favorite targets. Whether plaintiffs or their attorneys (mostly the latter), the offenders are usually just legal entrepreneurs, seeking deep pocket paydays from the most tenuous of claims.

We shall continue to attack such abuses, because they have become a pox on our legal system, distorting the seriousness of legitimate tort litigation, seeking to transfer consequences of personal responsibility, enhancing a culture of faux victimization and generally diminishing the capacity of citizens to play nicely with one another in the social contract sandbox.

Now, however, McDonald's has adopted the repugnant tactic of its protagonists, filing a defamation lawsuit against an Italian food critic, for nothing more than colorfully expressing his subjective opinions regarding McDonald's menu offerings in Italy, where the multinational fast food chain has approximately 300 restaurants.

Edoardo Raspelli is a food critic for La Stampa, a prominent Italian newspaper. He is also a cookbook author, television commentator and proponent of the so-called "slow food" movement. Unlike Goldilocks, food critics rarely make their reputations pronouncing porridge as "just right," and Raspelli has an estimable reputation.

Last December, interviewed in the Italian newspaper La Nazione, Raspelli referred to McDonald's hamburgers as "rubber," and French fries as "malodorous," tasting like "cardboard." He went on to equate McDonald's food to "gasoline," describing it as "repellent."

While Raspelli's comments were clearly provocative, they represent fairly standard fare for him and other food critics who look down their aquiline noses at all but the finest cuisine, and only that which is pronounced by each of them as such. Raspelli's interview was the equivalent of the owner of six Ferraris critiquing the latest offering from Kia - titillating, perhaps, but irrelevant to anyone for whom Kia produces daily transportation.

We have no idea how closely Italy's libel and defamation laws resemble ours. But that is also irrelevant. Raspelli's comments were nothing more than subjective opinion, presented as nothing more than subjective opinion. Free speech, even if not the universal norm, should be the universal ideal. In addition, certified smart people, and even some dumb ones who at least listen to public relations counsel with the same level of attention devoted to their lawyers, do not file lawsuits in such circumstances, but instead meet words with their own, carefully chosen, or otherwise just shut up.

We do suspect that Raspelli will ultimately prevail; he's been sued by offended restaurateurs and vintners more than 20 times in the past and has never lost. In fact, we also think the Italian judge has views similar to ours regarding frivolous lawsuits. Several weeks ago, the judge suggested that the parties settle outside the courts.

Now that the lawsuit has generated reams of stories, amplifying Signore Raspelli's comments far beyond the borders of Italy, a corporate spokeswoman for McDonald's has sought to distance headquarters from the conflagration by indicating that the lawsuit is a "regional" exercise of a decentralized company. Thanks for the clarification. It may sell to lawyers, but to the rest of the world, including six-year-olds and journalists, McDonald's is McDonald's, which it wouldn't be if it weren't, so to speak.

It would be decidedly grown-up and responsible for McDonald's to withdraw the lawsuit, invite Signore Raspelli to dinner, perhaps at Olive Garden, and give him something else to occupy his food musings. What's that old saying about people who live underneath golden arches?

If it is any consolation to the hurt feelings at McDonald's, one of the Center's Directors - known far and wide as a hamburger aficionado extraordinaire - only last week pronounced something called a McGriller as pretty good. That, too, is a subjective personal opinion.

June 12, 2003
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