My View From The Country

The ABC News Lawsuit Is A Long Shot

While ABC News isn’t Oprah, the BPI lawsuit faces the same uphill challenge.

Last week, I opined that while few cattlemen disagree that ABC News’ coverage of lean finely textured beef (LFTB) in ground beef was inaccurate and intentionally misled consumers by ignoring the facts, even after BPI set the record straight, I didn’t believe there was much hope for success with the $1.2-billion lawsuit

I still don’t. I’m sure you remember the lawsuit filed against Oprah over her misleading and inherently inaccurate coverage over BSE. Suing Oprah was akin to suing Santa Claus. Even in Amarillo, TX, it was going to be difficult to find a jury that would have held Oprah accountable for the damage she inflicted on the cattle industry by presenting a biased and knowingly inaccurate portrayal of the BSE situation.

Historically, reputable news outlets and Americans’ love and support of the First Amendment have made it virtually impossible to successfully sue any news organization for its coverage, regardless of its inaccuracies or intentional biases. Americans still love the First Amendment, and thus they will hold any challenge to it to a very high standard.

But one thing certainly has changed and that is people’s perception of the role of the mass media. The demise of the traditional news organizations coupled with the rise of cable networks and the Internet has shattered not only the mainstream media’s monopoly on providing information, but also the myth that they were somehow unbiased or factually based. Personally, as someone who provides commentary, I understand that it is important for people to be able to express their views. Nevertheless, there should be limits to how one should be allowed to express those views --not only morally and ethically, but legally as well. 

Americans are aware that virtually all news coverage is biased. In many ways the removal of the facade of unbiased journalism has made consumers of media coverage far more astute than in the past. We also understand that media’s failure to provide the facts in an unbiased way cannot only do irreparable harm to individuals, businesses and industries, but that the abuse of power will harm the country in general. 

As a society, we castigate politicians and the two major political parties for not addressing the real problems facing our country in a meaningful way. The deficit is a great example. Sure, we can point to the inability of politicians to lead and live within their means, we can even accurately make the case that the president and Congress would be put in prison for fraud if they were running a public company and “cooked” the books like they do in Washington.

But even today, a politician who advocates a decrease in the rise of spending is accused of making barbaric cuts to the budget. Politicians do respond to voter signals; signals that have been largely shaped by media gatekeepers that refuse to allow meaningful reform see the light of day. 

While ABC News is not seen in the same light as Oprah, the lawsuit by BPI is still facing very long odds. There is growing sentiment, however, that the media has an obligation to provide all the facts when it is pretending to conduct unbiased journalism. 

ABC News was given the facts, and had reputable sources telling them what they were putting out was inaccurate, wrong and harmful. I remain highly skeptical, but there is a possibility that a jury will stand up and say that the media not only has the right to free speech, but that there are some basic responsibilities that go along with that right.

What do you think of the BPI lawsuit? Vote in this week's online poll and join in the discussion by leaving a comment.

Discuss this Blog Entry 8

Brandi (not verified)
on Sep 21, 2012

Troy - have you read this? bit.ly/PPyQVf It's got an interesting perspective. I agree that this is far from a sure thing but I think the case again ABC is much more powerful than that of the case against Oprah.

on Sep 21, 2012

While I understand the importance of the First Amendment. I personally believe people should be held accountable for purposefully misleading others via misinformation and lies. The problem comes in proving that they did anything intentionally. 1.) A public figure cannot be held responsible for their fame. 2.) They may simply be stating what they believe to be true at the time. Dr. Oz didn't get sued for his arsenic in apple juice scare.

Katy K (not verified)
on Sep 21, 2012

@JustinWilson - Valid points and I don't disagree. However, Dr Oz was confronted on national TV and in such, particularly ABS News brought on their "expect" Dr. Besser to "set the record straight". Where was ABC's willingness to listen the industry experts or refute the claims. To me that shows blatantly they chose to ignore facts in favor of views over a controversial subject and that is wrong and intentional.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Sep 21, 2012

We've all heard the first amendment right example of even though you have the right to free speech that doesn't mean you can run through a crowded theater yelling "fire". Seems to me that is just what ABC news did - cried danger in a public setting when they had facts in hand that there was none.

Steve Hammack (not verified)
on Sep 21, 2012

It used to be said there's no point in arguing with people who buy ink by the barrel. Probably the same now, different compound.

You're right, media have always been biased. Newspapers began in order to advance agendas, not report the news. But today there are a lot more sources of "information" and many are more biased than ever before, in both directions.

Terry Church (not verified)
on Sep 21, 2012

ABC should be held accountable, as anyone else should be for reporting inaccurate or misleading information and half truths. This affected 650 people's livelyhoods and the people in the communities where they live. ABC cause a huge ripple affect with their bias and half truth reports. They should also be held accountable to the 650 people who lost their jobs due to their report. I personally hope BPI wins, maybe that would make media more cautious about what they report and how they report it.

Rex (not verified)
on Sep 21, 2012

BPI has to hit a home run to come close to even offsetting the years of critical and skeptical press they will receive. Very little of the popular media took exception to ABC;s handling and much of it was republished. Steve is right about picking an argument with a news gatekeeper.

Jwredmond (not verified)
on Sep 22, 2012

In sports you can play a great game against a far superior opponent and still come up short in the final score. In doing so they may still win our respect and even admiration and certainly show us something about their character and in the end earn our support.
BPI may not collect any money but I will bet that they play this game in a way that will teach us all a lot about their product, ABC news and their reliability as a news organization. That will be a win for them and the industry.

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What's My View From The Country?

As a fulltime rancher, opinion contributor 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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