Tuesday, March 14, 2017
ABC News to Face South Dakota Jury Over ‘Pink Slime’ Story
Lawsuit claims reporting caused $1.9 billion worth of damage to meat-product maker Beef Products Inc.
Ninety-seven percent lean ground beef is a product of meat processed after the fatty portion is removed in
2014 at Beef Products Inc. in South Sioux City, NE. PHOTO: DAVE EGGEN FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
A judge in South Dakota has cleared the way to trial of a lawsuit claiming ABC News
“pink slime” coverage caused $1.9 billion worth of damage to the business of Beef
Products Inc., which makes the meat product tagged with the term.
Judge Cheryle Gering threw out defamation claims against anchor Diane Sawyer but
left standing accusations against ABC News and multiple Emmy award-winning
journalist, Jim Avila.
Judge Gering, in rejecting ABC’s bid to have the case dismissed, said a jury could
find the network was pursuing “a negative spin” on the story before conducting any
research and that Mr. Avilla had an anti-meat-industry agenda.
“Looking at the evidence in a light most favorable to the plaintiffs, a jury could
determine that there is clear and convincing evidence that ABC Broadcasting and
Mr. Avila were reckless,” the judge said, and that “they engaged in purposeful
over its coverage of lean, finely textured beef, or LFTB, a component of about
70% of the ground beef found on supermarket shelves in 2012, when the stories ran.
Due to a South Dakota food-libel law that triples damages against those found
to have knowingly lied about the safety of a food product, ABC News could be
hit with as much as $6 billion in damages.
The network stands by its reporting.
From the Archives
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There’s plenty of blame to go around for the pink-slime frenzy. The only innocent bystander is the cow. John Bussey on The News Hub looks at why producers finally capitulated this week and agreed to label their product. Photo: Nati Harnik/AP (Originally published April 5, 2012)
“We are pleased that the Court
dismissed all claims against
Diane Sawyer,” ABC News
said in a statement. “The Court
hasn’t ruled on the merits of the
case against the other defendants,
and we welcome the opportunity
to defend the ABC News reports
at trial and are confident that we will ultimately prevail.” Decades of First Amendment
law back ABC’s defense -- its right to report truthfully on a newsworthy subject, what
is in the nation’s food supply, the company’s lawyers say. Every broadcast said the
meat product was safe.
Beef Products says it was forced to close three of its four plants and erase hundreds
of jobs when consumers recoiled. It declined to provide current production figures.
The case, the latest media test of the boundaries of the First Amendment, will play
out before a jury in Union County, S.D., where Beef Products is based, and where
jobs were lost after the ABC News broadcasts.
Beef Products filed the case in state court in September 2012, but ABC News moved
swiftly to move the lawsuit to federal court, which is generally considered a more
comfortable forum for a national company caught up in a dispute with a local
business. Trial strategists view state courts as a more sympathetic forum for
locally-based businesses, while large corporations fare better in federal courts.
ABC asked the federal judge to throw out a case that it said “directly challenges
the right of a national news organization, two USDA scientists, and a former BPI
employee to explore matters of obvious public interest—what is in the food we eat
and how that food is labeled. The complaint also inhibits others who might address
these subjects in a public forum.”
A federal judge in June 2013 sent the case back to state court, telling ABC News to