The last time something like this happened, Texas cattleman Paul Engler and friends sued TV Icon/Goddess Oprah Winfrey for making disparaging and libelous comments about ground beef. Disparagement was quickly thrown out but that libel charge was reviewed by the judge. Lots of testimony ensued, Dr. Phil was called as an expert witness for the defense and we haven’t been able to get rid of him to this day. Oprah was exonerated after receiving millions of dollars worth of publicity.
Oprah’s off-hand comment about never eating ground beef again doesn’t even reach the quarter pounder stage compared to what BPI is asking of ABC News. There wasn’t enough meat there to make a decent slider. BPI has announced they want serious retribution – 1.2 billion dollars plus punitive damages. Let me spell that out again: One-point-two billion dollars PLUS punitive damages.
The one-point-two was arrived at by filing the legal papers in South Dakota. State law allows treble damages for lost profits in cases like this and BPI claims they’ve lost $400,000,000. The punitive damages part was added, I think, because ABC insisted on stretching out this story line and annoying the hell out of BPI founder Eldon Roth.
Personal opinion: I think there is no doubt that ABC News went above and beyond to witch hunt lean, finely textured beef. Diane Sawyer, Jim Avila, et al, pounded this story line for 30 days, well beyond the coverage they gave to almost any other event in the fast news era of the twenty-first century. Usually, a news item is a day or two thing before the public and the media get bored with it and move on with the possible exception of ultra-light news like whatever it is the Kardashians are doing lately.
Whatever drove those newsies to stick with it for a full month? Ratings? Avila’s ego? A slow news month? Or as BPI lawyer Dan Webb suggested, "ABC did this with malice, and they knew what they were doing. They decided to destroy this business and they decimated the product in the marketplace." We may never know.
And whether BPI has a legal leg to kick some ABC booty with is yet to be determined. Jeffrey Schneider, senior vice president of ABC News, speaking from the lawyers hymnal of what to say when cornered by the press, said "The lawsuit is without merit. We will contest it vigorously."
Webb, responding to a reporter’s question, said he would consider a settlement but doubted ABC would make such an offer.
No, this is going to court.