Craig Lechner visited the Fair Lawn McDonald's this weekend in New Jersey to reward his 3-year-old daughter with a Happy Meal. He left concerned the trip may have done more harm than good after the owner insisted on keeping the restaurant's television tuned to Fox News.
"A man shot himself in the head live on Fox two weeks ago," said Lechner, a Fair Lawn resident with two young children. "If we were [at McDonald's], I would be explaining that to my kids."
Lechner, a self-described liberal, said his opposition to showing Fox News on the restaurant's television is not a political issue, but rather one of keeping his young children blind to the world's harsh realities.
"I intend to keep my kids innocent for as long as possible," he said. "So of all places, why is McDonald's putting me into a position where I have to explain to my son what a 'serial killer' is or why people on TV are arguing about the meaning of 'rape?'"
Lechner said when he asked the restaurant owner, Sebastian Lentini, to change the channel, his request was denied.
"He said 'No. That’s my decision. I'm enjoying it,'" Lechner said. "He wouldn't even do it when I asked him nicely."
Outraged, the father of two whipped out his phone and videotaped the exchange, alternating between shots of an impassive Lentini denying his request to change the channel and Fox News blaring on the restaurant television.
Lentini declined comment on the incident, offering only that he displays a variety of news programming at his restaurant, not only Fox.
The restaurant's manager, Martha DeLeon, said she was in the kitchen during the altercation between Lechner and Lentini, but confirmed that it happened. DeLeon said McDonald's does not have a policy on the television programming its restaurants show, but that the restaurant had never previously received a customer complaint about its programming.
A representative from McDonald's corporate confirmed that the company does not regulate the programming its franchise restaurant owners show.
While she said she'd never heard of a franchise McDonald's owner playing R-rated or graphic material on his restaurant television, it is not technically against company policy.
If a customer takes issue with programming, McDonald's documents the complaint and sends it over to the franchise owner's organization to take care of it, she said.
Lechner, who also spoke with a McDonald's corporate rep and regional manager, said he was also told that the company had no restrictions on what its franchise owners show on their TVs.
"What if they showed porn?" Lechner said, taking the issue a step further. "You’d think with McDonald's that if you asked and complained that they’d comply and have some kind of policy about it... This is Fair Lawn, New Jersey. These are kids here."
Lechner said when he pressed a McDonald's representative on whether franchise owners could show pornography, he was amazed to learn that it was up to the individual owner.
Sex, however, is not Lechner's concern. He said he'd rather his young kids be exposed to sex than violence.
"This is about us as a society being so desensitized to violent images that we have no problem showing the violent, bloody news in a kids' restaurant to 3-year-olds," he said. "I don't want my kids to lose their innocence during a Happy Meal."