Tuesday, June 06, 2017

'Pink slime' defamation trial of ABC News begins in South Dakota town of 2,000

Photo by Tim Hynds, Sioux City Journal
The trial of ABC News for its  2012 "pink slime" reports on beef, which is poised to be the biggest defamation trial in U.S. history, began Monday "in Elk Point, S.D., a town with a population of just 2,000," Eriq Gardner writes for The Hollywood Reporter.

ABC reported on the product labeled "lean finely textured beef" and dubbed "pink slime" by critics. With billions of dollars on the line, representatives of Beef Products Inc. told jurors that the reports were to blame for the loss of 75 percent of its business. "Those who attended Monday heard two vastly different stories," Gardner reports. "BPI's was one of entrepreneurship and destruction. ABC's was about politics and secrecy."

BPI attorney Dan Webb said ABC's use of the term "pink slime" shows a preconceived negative image that ABC wished to portray to the public, 350 times over the course of the series of reports. "They ignored the proper name," said Webb. "When you have a major news organization that is calling the product 'slime,' witnesses will say they can't imagine anything worse. It connotes something disgusting, inedible."

Webb acknowledged that the term came from a 2002 email by Dr. Gerald Zirnstein, a former U.S. Department of Agriculture scientist interviewed by ABC, "but Webb asserted that the 'pink slime' term got 'minimal coverage' before ABC repeated it ad nauseum on air and to BPI's supermarket customers when reporters at the network aimed to figure out who was carrying the product," Gardner reports. Because a judge deemed BPI to be a "public figure," the group also has to demonstrate "actual malice" with reckless disregard for the truth to win damages, Gardner notes.

ABC attorney Dane Butswinkas said BPI "kept the process behind its meat product secret for years and had continually failed until recently to gain federal regulators' coveted approval that would enable LFTB to be mixed and sold in ground beef," reports Nick Hytrek of the Sioux City Journal. Butswinkas said, "The evidence will show the other side of the story is one BPI did not want told. The secret ingredient is secrecy."

Butswinkas cited BPI internal documents that illustrated problems with the product and "recounted the years-long process where the USDA was bombarded with lobbying letters and how Joann Smith, the former undersecretary of agriculture at the time, would go on to work for BPI's main supplier," Gardner reports. "None of this was illegal," Butswinkas said. "Just another day in the swamp. Politics as usual."

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