The author of the best-selling expose Fast Food Nation has accused McDonald's of behaving "like the Taliban" in its pre-emptive efforts to discredit his new book and a film on the subject.
Internal McDonald's documents reportedly show that the company is shifting into "crisis management" mode in advance of Chew On This, a young people's version of Eric Schlosser's book along with a forthcoming film adaptation of Fast Food Nation. The plans speak of mobilising a "truth squad" to attack both works, and of initiatives to "discredit the message and the messenger".
Children are seen through the window of a McDonalds restaurant in Chicago. Fast food from McDonald's is healthiest in Denmark and worst in the United States, a Danish study comparing levels of the deadliest kind of fat, trans fatty acids, showed. (John Gress/Reuters)
Plans sent to McDonald's franchisees, originally obtained by the Wall Street Journal, seek to reassure restaurant managers that "a lot of work is going on behind the scenes ... from a crisis management standpoint" - part of a "full-scale media campaign" to tell "the real story" about the world's largest restaurant chain.
"The book is not out yet, and they clearly haven't read it," Schlosser told the Guardian.
"And they have not seen this film. And yet their instinctive reaction is to attack. You know what they did to the McLibel duo." He was referring to McDonald's seven-year court battle with two London-based environmental activists, which was a major public relations embarrassment for the firm.
"A truth squad? That sounds like the Taliban or something. Aside from it bothering my free-speech instincts, I don't think those tactics serve McDonald's very well. They work hard to cultivate this image of a friendly company - and then they get out the brass knuckles if you disagree with them."
Co-written with Charles Wilson, Chew On This promises to tell younger readers the "sometimes frightening truth about what lurks behind those sesame-seed buns", including "the grisly conditions in a chicken slaughterhouse" and "how those delicious fast-food smells are manufactured off a highway in New Jersey".
Meanwhile, McDonald's seems panicked that the movie - expected to be released in the US in the autumn - could unleash bad publicity unlike anything it has seen. Directed by Richard Linklater, it stars Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke and the singer Avril Lavigne. According to the leaked documents, Lavigne stars as a worker for a chain called Mickey's who "'sees the light' and then works to reverse the ills of fast food".
Walter Riker, McDonald's vice-president for communications, denied any plans to discredit the author, saying in a statement that "the McDonald's family" would "vigorously communicate the facts about McDonald's".
· Next Saturday the Guardian will be giving away a DVD of Supersize Me with each copy of the paper. Plus, Fast Food Nation author Eric Schlosser speaks about McDonald's, his new book Chew On This and how corporations target children.
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