My View From The Country

ABC Asks Judge To Throw Out BPI Lawsuit

ABC News argues that the use of hyperbole, and essentially exaggeration, is constitutionally protected.

ABC News asked a judge in South Dakota this week to throw out the $1.2-billion defamation lawsuit brought against it by Beef Products, Inc. (BPI), a Dakota Dunes, SD-based beef processor. BPI says it will oppose the motion to dismiss.

BPI sued ABC News in September, claiming the network damaged the company by misleading consumers into believing that lean finely textured beef (LFTB), which the network characterized as "pink slime" is unhealthy and unsafe. The sensational ABC News reports on LFTB precipitated a firestorm of social media criticism that eventually led to the closure of three of four BPI processing plants and the loss of 650 jobs.

I've argued previously that, while probably justified, BPI's pink slime suit has very little chance of success. The courts have been more than a little hesitant to infringe on the press’s right to freedom of speech, no matter how irresponsibly they act.

Still it's infuriating to read the legal brief filed by ABC. It argues that the network didn’t call LFTB "unsafe," but rather unsuitable for human consumption. After reading that a half-dozen times, I'm still not sure about the distinction, but it's obviously important from a legal standpoint. The 1994 South Dakota food product law under which BPI sued ABC News deals only with the safety of a food product.

Secondly, ABC argues that the use of hyperbole, and essentially exaggeration, is constitutionally protected. I almost laughed at their defense of the term pink slime; they point out that it is indeed pinkish in color and that all ground beef has a somewhat slimy texture, so the term was not a derogative one but, in fact, an accurate description.

I don't know if the parties at BPI believe they'll ever see any of the restitution they are seeking. But I'm sure BPI felt it was something that was necessary, if for no other reason than to underscore the cost of an irresponsible media.

Discuss this Blog Entry 2

Terry Church (not verified)
on Nov 2, 2012

I know that ABC will probably win any argument in the Courts. They should still be liable for the damage they have caused. The 650 people that lost their jobs. These folks need income the same as anyone else, especially in these times. By losing their jobs, they may lose their homes, autos, or may not even be able to feed and care for their families. ABC may beat BPI in the Courts, but they should still be liable to the 650 people and their communities for the losses they've incurred due to ABC's inaccurate reports.

Ken Riceman (not verified)
on Nov 23, 2012

Just once it would be nice to hold a person or news company like ABC responsible for their obviovis deceitful actions to discredit a wholesome product. Freedom of speech? What about the freedom and lively hood of 650 workers and their families. ABC should pay and pay dearly. ABC appears to be using the old Clinton defense, depends on what the meaning of is, is.
Let them play with words all they want but make them pay.

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As a fulltime rancher, opinion contribur Troy Marshall brings a unique perspective on how consumer and political trends affect livestock production.

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Troy Marshall

Troy Marshall is a multi-generational rancher who grew up in Wheatland, WY, and obtained an Equine Science/Animal Science degree from Colorado State University where he competed on both the livestock...

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