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April 21, 2014

NY Times Misses the Point in General Mills Social Media/Arbitration Story

The New York Times is missing the point. That’s what Forbes columnist Daniel Fisher says about the Times’ continued reporting on General Mills’ legal policy regarding online visitors and arbitration. 

“Oh, to be a New York Times writer,” writes Fisher. “The Newspaper of Record yesterday reported that consumers who ‘liked’ General Mills foods on Facebook could ‘give up their right to sue the company.’” 

In fact, Fisher writes, “only consumers who join the cereal maker’s online communities and download items of value, such as coupons, agree to the company’s policy requiring legal disputes to be settled in arbitration.” 

Over the weekend, however, General Mills reversed course, saying it was removing the arbitration clause and reverting to its former legal policy. 

That, writes Fisher, is beside the point. While the New York Times and the plaintiffs’ bar would have you think that this story is about the right of an individual to sue over a defective box of Cheerios — it’s really about the plaintiffs’ bar wanting to protect its ability to assemble class action, “zombie armies that can compel companies into settling on lucrative terms.” 

So, while the plaintiffs’ bar obviously dislikes arbitration (learn more about arbitration on the ILR resource page here), Fisher notes that this situation isn’t really about arbitration, it’s about the class-action waiver included in the General Mills ‘clickwrap’ agreement. 

Such an agreement would prevent situations such as a 2013 class action over “Mini-Wheats” cereal, under which, Fisher points out, “consumers got whatever was left of $4 million after the attorneys subtracted expenses and up to 25% in fees.” 

To review, the Times first misreported the facts, and then it missed the point: This is about anything but protecting consumers; it’s about the plaintiffs’ bar wanting to protect its class actions profits. 

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