Commentary

Docs Want Ronald To Retire; Fat Chance It Happens

The headline in the tabloid Boston Herald reads: "Doctors cook up way to give McDonald's Ronald the boot." What they've really doing, however, is ratcheting up the pressure, as the lede admits. There's little indication that the fast food giant's mascot -- or accompanying charitable works -- are going anywhere soon despite the fact that more than 200 physicians in the Boston area have signed a letter to McDonald's CEO James Skinner "asking him to halt its marketing to kids," Thomas Grillo reports. A number of them will also hold an event at Codman Square Health Center in Dorchester today.

The Boston Globe headline, as befits the statelier broadsheet, is more realistic: "Pressure could make Ronald grimace." Perhaps. What the company actually says is that the mascot is staying on the job: "He is the heart and soul of Ronald McDonald House Charities, which lends a helping hand to families in their time of need, particularly when families need to be near their critically ill children in hospitals."

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More than 550 physicians, health professionals and organizations nationally have signed the letter, which is published this morning in six metropolitan newspapers. It not only urges McDonald's to make Ronald and Happy Meals disappear but also demands that it not market food high in salt, fat, sugar and calories to kids and calls on it to produce a report assessing its "health footprint," Julie Jargon reports in the Wall Street Journal. The actual headline on the letter is "Doctors' Orders: Stop Marketing Junk Food To Kids.''

The nonprofit group Corporate Accountability International, which was in the thick of the fight against Joe Camel in the '90s, is behind the campaign. It also plans to call for Ronald's exit at the company's annual shareholder's meeting in Oak Brook, Ill., tomorrow.

The AP's Cristina Rexrode, whose story appears in the Detroit Free-Pressamong many other papers this morning, leads with the observation that the clown is suffering from a "mid-life crisis" on several fronts. He may be out-of-date to a generation more attuned to video game apps than TV clowns, he may be out-of-step with Big Mac's new thrusts for the adult market and Ace Metrix, which tracks TV ads, says he has "fallen flat in new ads."

McDonalds responded to the broader attack, Jargon reports, with the following statement: "We are committed to responsible advertising and take our communications to children very seriously. We understand the importance of children's health and nutrition, and are committed to being part of the dialogue and solution. We serve high quality food, and our Happy Meals offer choice and variety in portions just for kids. Parents tell us they appreciate our Happy Meal choices."

Meanwhile, a release went out on PR Newswire yesterday with the news that a gala hosted by Barbara Walters at the Waldorf-Astoria's Grand Ballroom Monday night netted $3.5 million for Ronald McDonald House, primarily from the retail and financial industries.

"Along with the honoree presentations and remarks from Barbara Walters, this year's Gala also featured a moving performance by the Ronald McDonald House New York Chorus, comprised of children who are currently staying at the House," the release reads. "Led by Steven Reineke, music director of the New York Pops, the children were joined by their parents in singing, "I Will Always Be There," an original composition written by Dylan and Cain Hartung, former residents of the House who put their story of fighting cancer to music."

The health forces aligned against Ronald are facing a well-oiled PR machine across the country, in fact. Consider a sampling of other headlines this week:

"No one can deny that Ronald McDonald is cute and the face of McDonald's charitable work," Dr. Wayne Altman, a family physician in Arlington, Mass., tells the Herald's Grillo. "But it's egregiously unethical to market junk food to children in very clever ways in the midst of an epidemic where one in three children in America is overweight."

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