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In the Crossfire

Would you like fries with that lawsuit?

(CNN) -- A suit has been filed against four fast-food chains because of health problems that allegedly resulted from their food. Is this just a frivolous lawsuit or the start of a new brand of lawsuit? George Washington University law professor John Banzhaf chews on this in the "Crossfire" with hosts Robert Novak and Paul Begala.

NOVAK: Some junk food junkies would like to become class-action plaintiffs. They filed a lawsuit accusing four fast food chains; McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's and Kentucky Fried Chicken; of misleading the public into buying greasy, salty, sugary food that causes obesity and disease. Is there a better excuse anywhere for limiting frivolous lawsuits?

BEGALA: Professor Banzhaf, thank you very much for joining us. Now, you're an adviser on this case, correct?

BANZHAF: I am going to be advising on the case. It is actually the fifth in a series of cases designed to do to tobacco -- to do to fast food what we've been able to do with tobacco with lawsuits. The first one actually was done by students right here at George Washington University. They sued McDonald's over their french fries. You have a sample of the french fries right there. We won $12.5 million.

BEGALA: For what?

BANZHAF: Because they failed to disclose what was in their french fries, that had beef fat in it. Now, this new suit is going a step or two further ...

BEGALA: Much further.

BANZHAF: ... because we're accusing...

BEGALA: I don't care if it is beef fat or pig fat, I like them. Do you want to eat some?

BANZHAF: No thanks.

BEGALA: That's good stuff, man. Now, here's my problem with it. Here's my problem with it.

BANZHAF: The serious issue is this ...

BEGALA: I am all for ...

BANZHAF: ... it costs an awful lot of money...

BEGALA: Can I ask a question before you give an answer, professor? Before people go running in and file lawsuits like this, such as demagogues like Bush who gave a speech yesterday attacking a family whose baby was brain damaged who had a legitimate suit. It takes every legitimate lawsuit that a little guy has against a big corporation and allows these demagogues to scream about it. That's what bothers me about it.

BANZHAF: So, you're stopping at this lawsuit?

BEGALA: Yes, sir.

BANZHAF: That encourages me. You know why?

BEGALA: Tell me why.

BANZHAF: Because when we got the smokers to sue the tobacco industry, everybody scoffed. When we got the non-smokers to sue the tobacco industry, everybody laughed. When we got the states to sue the tobacco industry, they were rolling out of their beds. We won every single damn suit, and we've just won against McDonald's. So, scoff away, gentlemen. We're winning in the courts.

NOVAK: I'll tell you something else, though, a lot of people, like me ...

BANZHAF: Yes, you can applaud. It's all right.

NOVAK: They don't want to applaud that.

BANZHAF: They did. Yes, they did. Listen to them.

NOVAK: A lot of people, like I, resent that. I resent that. Now, I want to tell you why, because Caesar Barber, he's a character who was in this suit.

BANZHAF: He's the plaintiff. We call him plaintiff.

NOVAK: I'll put up on the screen a quote. He said, "They said 100 percent beef. I thought they meant it was good for you. I though the food was OK." Now, if the guy is that stupid, that he thinks 100 percent beef means it is 100 percent good for you, should he be suing?

BANZHAF: Well, Bob, the whole point of modern law and warnings is we don't have to protect brilliant people like you who know all these dangers. We have to protect the people who maybe are a little bit slower. And every year, thousands of people win lawsuits for dangers which probably would be pretty obvious to somebody like you.

BEGALA: Let's take a quick poll. Who here doesn't know that this stuff is going to make you fat if you eat it? Who does know that this stuff, while delicious, right, is going to make you fat?

BANZHAF: My poll. My poll. Can anybody in the audience tell me to the nearest 50 percent, when you order a triple bacon cheeseburger, a super-sized fries and a large Coke, what percentage of calories and saturated fat from one day's healthy meal is in that one meal? Anybody, to the nearest 50 percent?

BEGALA: Who cares?

BANZHAF: They don't know.

BEGALA: All of it.

BANZHAF: No, not all of it. That's the whole point.

When I go into a food store and I look at a food, I can find out the calories and the fat. When I go into a fast food joint, and I see meal five, meal six, meal seven, I have no clue as to how much fat is in that.

BEGALA: It is on the wall at McDonald's.

BANZHAF: In many, it's not. And by the way ...

BEGALA: I've been to a lot of McDonald's, man.

BANZHAF: ... how many of you have ever seen people who go to the back to the wall. People don't go to the back ...

BEGALA: I used to work for Bill Clinton. I was at every McDonald's in America. It's on the wall.




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