April 20, 2005
Press has its own responsibility as
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
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.