Thursday, November 01, 2012

ABC answers 'pink slime' defamation suit by packer

ABC News claimed First Amendment protection in a motion filed yesterday to dismiss Beef Products Inc.'s $1.2 billion defamation lawsuit against the network, Lisa Keefe of Meatingplace reports. BPI filed suit against ABC in September for disparagement and tortious interference after a series of ABC reports last spring about lean finely textured beef started a media blitz, and out the term "pink slime" into the popular lexicon. BPI was once a leading manufacturer of LFTB.

ABC's multi-part filing in a U.S. District Court in South Dakota offers several arguments for dismissal: BPI can't allege libel because the original complaint is about how LFTB was described, meaning only product-disparagement allegations can be made; ABC's reports don't qualify as disparagement because they didn't question LFTB's safety, only whether people would want to eat it; and the news reports are considered protected speech under the First Amendment as "imaginative expression" and "rhetorical hyperbole." The term "pink slime" was coined several years ago.

The filing "emphasizes the network's role as a watchdog for the public interest," Keefe reports. From the filing: "BPI's complaint . . . 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 that we eat and how that food is labeled." BPI counsel Erik Connolly told Keefe that he could oppose the motion to dismiss. (Read more)

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