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ID NEWS: USF draws more media attention

Beleaguered U.S. Foodservice (USF) has attracted more negative press, this time about press.

A number of major financial media and city newspapers, ranging from Barrons Online to the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, and others, picked up a First Amendment spat between the Columbia, MD, based broadliner and an Internet site called "Foodservice Rumors," which posts gossip and news about the foodservice industry.

The ball got rolling when the site's publisher, a former member of the industry named Steve Hoschler, posted an announcement that he would have to partially shut down, as a result of a letter from a law firm representing USF, Miles & Stockbridge. The letter is said to have described as "reprehensible" the solicitation of documents or other confidential information from USF employees and that Hoschler could be held liable for "false and defamatory" statements. The attorney involved, Robert S. Brennen, has since stressed that the letter did not seek "any restriction" on legitimate First Amendment rights.

At issue is the investigation of USF accounting of promo allowances of more than $500 million over a two-year period, which came into question several weeks ago.

The current brouhaha reflects ongoing controversy over protections for online message boards. Legal experts say that courts have consistently ruled in favor of message boards, unless items are posted not by a third party but directly by the website operator.

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