Sep 21, 2012

Who's getting slimed now?

It seems that responsible news reporting is becoming a thing of the past. You expect to see bias news junk on the web in various blogs, but the large national news organizations like NBC, ABC, CBS, CNN and FOX news have a responsibility to get the story right, simply because they consider themselves “Professional.” There was nothing professional about the way ABC went after Beef Products Incorporated (BPI) several months ago, and now they are finding themselves playing defense because of their loose reporting.

Last week, BPI filed suit against ABC in Circuit Court in Union County, SD, claiming that ABC conducted a month-long smear campaign against BPI’s main product, Lean Finely Textured Beef (LFTB). BPI was forced to close three of their four plants and reduce operating capacity by 60 percent to 80 percent in their South Dakota plant.

When you’re producing a food product that has been blessed by USDA and the Food and Drug Administration, one might feel that they are operating under a safe environment. But I suppose everything is fair game as far as the news media is concerned. Perhaps the news media has been following politics too long and hearing all the lies, and starting to believe them. We know they have a selective hearing problem. There used to be a department in news rooms, to protect them from libel suits, called fact checking. I suppose ABC let their fact checkers go during these hard times.

BPI is looking to recover damages for defamation, product and food disparagement, and tortious interference with business relationships; they are suing for $1.2 billion in damages, plus punitive damages.

Their attorney Dan Webb said that, “Through nearly 200 false, misleading and defamatory statements, repeated constantly during a month long disinformation campaign, ABC and other individuals knowingly misled consumers into believing that LFTB was not beef and not safe for public consumption, which is completely false.” Of course ABC denied the claims and said the suit is without merit and they plan to “contest it vigorously.”

Named in the suit are ABC anchorwoman Diane Sawyer, senior national correspondent Jim Avila, ABC news correspondent Gerald Zirnstein, former USDA employee, who claims to have coined the term “pink slime,” Carl Custer, and Kit Foshee, a former BPI employee. They should probably throw in food channel chef Jamie Oliver in the suit for good measure.

BPI had gone to great extent to provide ABC with information about their product and went out of their way to get them the facts. Webb said, “ABC coverage of LFTB and BPI was a disinformation campaign unparalleled in duration and scope.” His legal team’s research found 11 live broadcasts, 14 online reports and a number of social media platforms that contained false and misleading statements about BPI and LFTB.

He also said that responses posted to ABC news’ website are proof of how the news organization’s alleged reporting of false information impacted public opinion. “Consumers by the hundreds notified ABC that they believed the false statements made by ABC. Consumers are convinced that my client is manufacturing a product that is some kind of “pink slime” product that is not beef and that it’s unsafe for human consumption, all of which is false.” In addition to defamation and product disparagement, BPI claims that ABC committed tortious interference by “blacklisting” companies that sold ground beef that contained LFTB.

It seems that most food disparagement cases are difficult. When Washington apple growers were faced with poor science that Alar was carcinogenic and apple sales fell through the floor, they sued. But they had no hard proof to support their case. I don’t think BPI will have as much of a problem since all of the media coverage is well documented and ABC interfered with their customer relationships.

It will be some time before LFTB regains its market share and Eldon Roth, owner of BPI, certainly has a right to defend his product and company that was shamelessly taken down to a fraction of its original business. Legislators are calling for laws to label products with LFTB and I wonder how they will do it. This product contains 100 percent beef with 100 percent beef added. I hope BPI is successful and we can send the word to journalists that while they have free speech, they do have to make an attempt to be factual. — PETE CROW