Integrity Matters
April 20, 2005

Press has its own responsibility as well

Question: (E-181)

Dear Jim:

How can an unproven charge like "a Wendy's restaurant served a customer a severed finger in a bowl of chili" be reported as fact by newspapers, radio and television?


Certainly, this hideous saga is convoluted. But let's start with the facts. An individual has accused a restaurant of serving a section of human finger in her bowl of chili. That is the truth. She made a claim.

Telling the world about it violates no principles of integrity. Freedom of the press means exactly that. Reporters have responsibilities. A good place to start is to review the First Amendment to the United States Constitution: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press..."

Yes, this particularly fateful luncheon story has taken on a life of its own. Media decision-makers may have felt compelled to reveal the charge against the Wendy's franchise in San Jose. They certainly understood the ramifications. Each day since March 22, the disgusting story creates a growing economic challenge for Wendy's International. The owner of the restaurant where the disputed chili was served is losing money, having already been convicted by the court of public opinion.

Freedom has a price tag and so does integrity. People and companies, including restaurants, can behave inappropriately and there are consequences.

Even so, had this incident not been reported widely, would the plaintiff have elected, so very quickly, to announce that she wouldn't file a lawsuit? Was this incident actually staged to provide grounds to sue a corporation with deep pockets? Or did the restaurant violate food-quality standards?

Accusations presented and assessed in the shadows - sometimes called maliciousness and backstabbing - are impossible to resolve constructively.

So having the press shine the spotlight on the "chili debacle" will likely lead to clarity and integrity. Wendy's will be found innocent or guilty and so will the individual making the charges.

My own management consulting experience with leadership teams follows the constructive media model. Confront challenges with integrity. If a member of a team has a concern or frustration with a colleague, one effective way to achieve resolution is for those in conflict to deal directly and resolve the problems. In this "finger-in-the-chili" situation, the media is driving for resolution.

Truth, justice and integrity are worth the wait, and the media can offer constructive assistance.

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