Video: Beer wars

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updated 6/28/2004 11:08:33 PM ET 2004-06-29T03:08:33

What started as a clever spoof of political controversy and of democracy versus monarchy, has fermented into a real controversy. It was just an advertising campaign: one brewski trying to one-up another brewski. But it has now escalated from being a series of commercials starring comedian Bob Odenkirk to a matter of courts, and the government of South Africa.

Beer certainly wasn’t invented in America, but the way America’s big breweries carry on, it seems like you need to have your hand over your heart just to drink the stuff.

The first salvo was fired by Miller. It’s target? Budweiser claim that it’s the “King of beers.” Miller complained that it’s downright un-American.

The Miller ad says, “Beer needs democracy too! A president of beers!”

Stung by Miller’s ad campaign, Budweiser left the clyesdales in the barn and rolled out the talking lizards to fight back.

Now, Budweiser is saying that Miller isn’t really American either, since Miller was bought by South African breweries.

The beer battle came to a head, literally, when Budweiser started calling Miller “The Queen of carbs” over Miller’s claim its light beer has fewer carbohydrates.

Miller took Bud to court, saying the charge was disparaging and misleading, but Miller’s says its sales have soared, and have since dropped the claim.

“What do I make of this battle?” asks Advertising Age’s Bob Garfield, and cohost of NPR’s “On the Media.” “It’s silly and probably beneath everybody involved. I understand this is only beer, and we’re not talking about anything important, but nonetheless, it’s a coarsening of public discourse, much like we’ve seen in politics. It’s always a bad idea.”

But are the beer drinkers of America paying any attention? Is there really any difference between them anyway?

In the billion dollar beer business, all the flag-waving may fall by the wayside once the froth settles.

This was Countdown with Keith Olbermann's No. 2 story for Monday. 'Countdown' airs weeknights, 8 p.m. ET on MSNBC.

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