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ABC News Settles With Beef Products Inc. in “Pink Slime” Defamation Case

ABC News Settles With Beef Products Inc. in “Pink Slime” Defamation Case

“If inaccurate information is being put out there by a news organization…it can cause tremendous damage”

Beef Products Inc. (BPI) has reached a settlement agreement with ABC News.

The beef company sued ABC and reporter Jim Avila for defamation after the network aired an investigative segment in 2012 calling a filler product used in ground beef “pink slime.” The complaint alleged omission of facts in addition to food-libel.

BPI claimed their business suffered an 80% loss in profits, forcing them to close three of four processing plants after the ABC report aired.

ABC argued BPI’s business was suffering before the reports and that the term “pink slime” was used well before their report aired, they also argued it was within their first amendment rights to air such a report.

What ABC called “pink slime” is a filler made up of beef trimmings, “and exposed to bursts of ammonium hydroxide to kill E. coli and other contaminants,” according to Reuters.

The trial, held in Elk Point, South Dakota, was expected to last eight weeks and began earlier this month.

Details of the settlement are confidential, according to Reuters:

BPI had claimed up to $1.9 billion in damages, which could have been tripled to $5.7 billion under South Dakota’s Agricultural Food Products Disparagement Act.

During its reports, ABC used the term “pink slime” more than 350 times across six different media platforms including TV and online, Webb said during opening statements on June 5.

In the aftermath of ABC’s broadcasts, BPI closed three of its four processing plants and said its revenue dropped 80 percent to $130 million. The company had around 1,300 employees before the reports. Some 700 were let go shortly after, Erik Connolly, a BPI attorney, told Reuters on Wednesday.

“If inaccurate information is being put out there by a news organization, particularly one with a powerful reach, it can cause tremendous damage,” he said. “There are real consequences to that for real people.”

ABC said in a statement:

“Throughout this case, we have maintained that our reports accurately presented the facts and views of knowledgeable people about this product.”

“Although we have concluded that continued litigation of this case is not in the company’s interests, we remain committed to the vigorous pursuit of truth and the consumer’s right to know about the products they purchase.”

The original news report is here:

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ABC knew it was going to lose and lose big. It was only a matter of time, before a jury got the case. With all of the fake news being put out, in the last 10 years, the jury was going to find for the plaintiff no matter the evidence.

It’s nice that the direct victim the company has been compensated to its satisfaction for its losses, but it was not the direct victim of this beat-up. Its losses were merely collateral damage incidental to that suffered by the real victims, which were the consumers who were frightened into boycotting this wholesome product, thus leading major retailers, restaurant chains, and school boards to stop buying it, and therefore keeping prices higher than they ought to be. The consumer, who ought to have been benefiting for years from this product by way of lower prices (and also, incidentally, lower incidence of bacterial contamination since this product is treated against it) still isn’t doing so, and won’t for the foreseeable future. It’s not as if McDonalds, your kids’ schools, or your local supermarket will learn of this settlement and decide to start buying it again.

    Anchovy in reply to Milhouse. | June 28, 2017 at 6:01 pm

    Don’t overlook the employees who lost their jobs.

    YellowSnake in reply to Milhouse. | June 28, 2017 at 6:54 pm

    Well, if they have been vindicated they can reopen the plants. But it doesn’t seem that they have been vindicated. To quote the reporter: “We’re not retracting anything. We’re not apologizing for anything,” Avila told reporters’

    Milhouse in reply to Milhouse. | June 29, 2017 at 11:22 am

    the direct victim the company

    Oops. I meant, of course, to write “the indirect victim, the company”. As I continued, the direct victims are the consumers who were misled into the false belief that this product is somehow unhealthy, or not real meat.

    That ABC was not forced to retract the story is unfortunate for the public good, but from the company’s point of view a retraction would not yield anything to its bottom line, since the damage done is irreversible. Those who were turned off the product are not going to change their feelings, and the major institutional customers — schools, burger chains, supermarkets — whose boycott killed the product aren’t going to resume buying it. So given the choice between a retraction and a bigger settlement what would you do?

    This is the big difference between an individual who is defamed and a corporation. An individual’s reputation is inherently of value to him; a corporation’s reputation is only valuable to itself to the extent that it can be monetized.

Next stop: NYT.

Those two sentences constructed and renewed with the hope to force a close association will haunt them.

YellowSnake | June 28, 2017 at 6:50 pm

Funny, BPI settled without getting a retraction. Hmmm.

According to Reuters: “ABC said in a statement that it stood by its reporting. Avila said after the case was settled that the company was not retracting his stories or apologizing, and his 2012 “pink slime” reports remained on the ABC News website.”

“We’re not retracting anything. We’re not apologizing for anything,” Avila told reporters

Remains on the ABC website – pretty damning for BPI.

All this proves is that so called ‘food libel’ laws can threaten even the largest corporation – even if they are true. I thought you guys hate people suing simply to make money. Shouldn’t BPI have sought vindication? They took the money. Hmmm

    Jackie in reply to YellowSnake. | June 28, 2017 at 6:55 pm

    It’s always about the money. Doesn’t matter that they always say it’s about their reputation.

      YellowSnake in reply to Jackie. | June 28, 2017 at 7:27 pm

      Oh, yeah? When you hold a winning hand, you get a retraction. At the least you get the reporter muzzled. Instead he stood on the courthouse steps and said he stands by the story.

        Milhouse in reply to YellowSnake. | June 29, 2017 at 11:24 am

        Why would a corporation prefer a smaller settlement and a retraction to a bigger one and no retraction? It’s not as if a retraction would make the product commercially viable once again.

    healthguyfsu in reply to YellowSnake. | June 28, 2017 at 7:30 pm

    Funny, ABC went to trial and settled in the middle. That means they knew it wasn’t going well despite having their substantial legal resources (of which they’d already paid for in large amounts) that would far outweigh the remnant shell of the injured party.

    That’s pretty damning.

      YellowSnake in reply to healthguyfsu. | June 28, 2017 at 7:51 pm

      ABC didn’t issue a retraction. It is still labeled on their website as ‘pink slime’. Believe what you want, but ABC and everyone else is free to continue to call it that despite ‘food libel’ laws and a hometown jury.

      I guess we will have to see if heads roll or profits are effected at Disney. Disney had net income of 1.9B in 3rd Qtr of 2016. If there was a material effect on their earnings, we will know.

      Meanwhile – no retraction

        healthguyfsu in reply to YellowSnake. | June 28, 2017 at 9:21 pm

        What’s the value of a retraction at this point years later? It would be only mildly embarrassing for ABC and give little to the plaintiff since vendors have already dropped their product anyways…works as a good bargaining chip for the lawyers on the plaintiff’s side though. They can start with it on the table and concede it off in exchange for more money.

        It won’t affect Disney (not effect) because they are a large multi-national corp with lots of holdings, obviously. “Believe what you want”

As part of the settlement, Dianne Sawyer will be forced to eat pink slime until she explodes.

Is Pink Slime another name for feminism?

inspectorudy | June 29, 2017 at 12:51 am

It looks to me like abc, by settling, is not required to retract anything it reported. It would have to be retracted if that had been part of the settlement and it appears it wasn’t. I do not know why the meat company would not have demanded that be part of the settlement. Money does strange things to people.

    Old0311 in reply to inspectorudy. | June 29, 2017 at 8:52 am

    ABC killed the market and it’s not coming back no matter what ABC says now. Bleed the bastards as much as possible and move on.

      Milhouse in reply to Old0311. | June 29, 2017 at 11:26 am

      Exactly. The real losers are the customers who are paying more because the meat scraps that used to go into this are now thrown out.

VaGentleman | June 29, 2017 at 6:10 am

It’s all just a misunderstanding. Pink Slime is also a name for liberals, who ARE unhealthy for you. So, ABC was right after all and it’s Trump’s fault – or something.

Isn’t it peculiar that nothing about this settlement has been mentioned on the MSM news shows? (sarc)