Ms. Coffing, VP-corporate communications, plopped down next to a reporter, saying she was there as a parent of a student at the Glen Ellyn, Ill., school located some eight miles from the fast-food giant's headquarters. But she also asked for a chance to rebut Mr. Schlosser, who wrote the popular book Fast Food Nation, and present the company's side of the issues discussed.
"I thought it was not a balanced perspective and did not provide an accurate portrayal of McDonald's, certainly," she told the reporter. So goes the food industry's fight with Mr. Schlosser, a skirmish that's turning into a schoolyard brawl.
Aiming to blunt the facts laid out by Mr. Schlosser and co-author Charles Wilson in their book, organizations linked with big business have jumped in with news releases and protests and a Web site, Bestfoodnation.com, created by 18 food-industry groups.
But McDonald's is waging hand-to-hand combat against presentations like that at Glen Ellyn.
It was a graphic presentation. Among the photos Mr. Schlosser and Mr. Wilson used as they traded places at the podium was one of a smoldering mountain range of cow manure; one of chickens and cows on the range contrasted with those in industrial "farms"; and one of the bugs whose shells are used in red food coloring. Each photo and commentary drew gasps and collective "eewwwwws." One girl shuddered in her seat.
McDonald's continues to deny an April 13 Wall Street Journal report citing a document sent to franchisees that McDonald's would use a "truth squad" to "discredit the message and the messenger." In fact, that same night McDonald's dispatched a representative to a book signing to invite Mr. Schlosser to its corporate headquarters. Walt Riker, VP-corporate communications and social responsibility, also denied any ties to the groups protesting the book.
Despite its interest in a dialogue, however, McDonald's skipped an opportunity to appear with Mr. Schlosser on NBC's "Today" show. Instead it issued a statement with its own facts about the company's food, safety and employment record, and an invitation to visit the corporate Web site. "We didn't know what he was going to talk about," Mr. Riker said.
But Mr. Schlosser said any meeting with McDonald's will start with a discussion about the personal attacks. "To invite me over and secretly pay people to make incredible personal attacks on me, McDonald's should issue me an apology."