chapter  6
26 Pages

Moral Courage

Richard G. Starmann had taken his wife out for a birthday dinner in downtown Chicago in July 1984 when the calls started coming. A Vietnam veteran walked into a McDonald’s restaurant in southern California and opened fi re with his M-16 rifl e. He shot 40 people, including children, killing 21 and wounding 19 before he was killed by a police offi cer. Starmann, chief of McDonald’s worldwide communications efforts, was quickly forced into crisis-communication mode by what became one of the deadliest massacres in U.S. history. Over the next few frantic days, he was the center of the company’s public responses, from managing the fl ood of media calls, cancelling TV ads and arranging support for funerals and victims’ hospital bills. But two moments in particular stood out for Starmann. One was the formation of what later became known as the “Horwitz Rule”:

It was expressed by Don Horwitz, then executive vice president and general counsel of the company, who the day after the incident told a few of us who were responding to more than 1,000 media calls, “I don’t want you people to worry or care about the legal implications of what you might say. We are going to do what’s right for the survivors and families of the victims, and we’ll worry about lawsuits later.” “We’re going to do what’s right” became the “Horwitz Rule.”