Judge refuses to throw out lawsuit against ABC News for its idiotic 'pink slime' fake news

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Published by: Dan Calabrese on Thursday March 16th, 2017

The First Amendment is not license to make things up.

Remember "pink slime"? We're going back a few years, but between media hysterics and social media sharing by the gullible, a lot of you were convinced a little under a decade ago that some gross, dangerous, unhealthy goo was being put in the meat you were buying from the grocery store. (There was another version of the "pink slime" nonsense that targeted McDonald's, but I think most people caught on pretty quickly to that one.)

Much of this was the work of ABC News, which informed us in oh-so-concerned tones how disturbing and shocking all this was. The meat industry was putting crap into your meat, and the corrupt FDA was refusing to make them tell you about it! Why? Because its officials were "meat-industry connected" and they were in on the evil scheme.

It all sounded frightening, as things often do when they're not true. The actual product in question is manufactured by a company called Beef Products Inc. It is not really called "pink slime," and it is perfectly safe. This was a story about nothing by a TV reporter who imagines himself as a crusading hero. His conclusion was reached before he did any real reporting. And Beef Products Inc. asserted all this in a lawsuit against ABC that, despite the best efforts of the network's lawyers, has been given the go-ahead to proceed

Beef Products says ABC News whipped up the controversy about the meat product to boost ratings, inflaming consumers’ fears and forcing the plant closures.

“This was fake news,” Beef Products lawyer J. Erik Connolly told Judge Gering during arguments in January. “It’s perfectly safe. It’s perfectly nutritious. It was properly approved by the USDA. There was no news here. There was nothing to rush out and talk about. There was no news.”

The term “pink slime” was in wide use after a 2009 New York Times story on the product, but it exploded on social media after the ABC News broadcasts. The network focused on the fact ground beef labels made no mention of LFTB, made from defatted beef trimmings in a process involving ammonium hydroxide.

“Why -- if it is just another additive, a way to put leaner beef in the burgers at a cheaper price, if it is no problem, if it’s safe, all those things, why not just label it? Why not just put it on the package?” Mr. Avila asked a meat industry spokeswoman in an interview.

Mr. Avila, the judge said, was “rude, agitated and hostile” in his questioning of the Beef Products defender.

The BPI lawsuit claims ABC News use of the term “pink slime” amounted to a concerted disinformation against the company, violating South Dakota’s food disparagement law. A dozen other states have passed similar laws following the 1989 Alar scare. Apple sales sank after a broadcast on the CBS newsmagazine program “60 Minutes” linked Alar to health risks, and the pesticide was banned from use on food.

Exactly right. ABC used words like "alarming" and insinuated that decision-makers were corrupt as a way of casting suspicion over a policy that was legal, above-board and in no way threatening to the public's health or safety. Two guys, one of whom they generously labeled a "whistleblower," expressed an opinion that the product is poor quality and should not be in the meat. That's fine. That's their opinion. You can always find someone who will criticize anything you do. But there was no evidence offered by anyone - not even these two guys - that the additive posed any sort of problem for anyone.

Yet ABC broadcast its report with an ominous tone and gave the product a totally fake name that had the effect of making it sound like something horrible. No matter how many facts the company tried to offer in response, it could not compete with the dark tone of the broadcast, and it certainly could not compete with the term "pink slime," even if that in no way represents what the product really is.

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Now, any time a media outlet gets sued, there arises the question of whether this is a threat to First Amendment rights. Here's my take:

You should be able to express any opinion you want. What you should not be able to do is create a slickly produced package that masquerades as news and is designed to scare the bejeezus out of people, or just flat out gross them out, by creating a totally false impression about a product. And you could do this with just about anything, especially food. Anything that goes through some form of processing probably undergoes a process that - if it was described to you in exhaustive detail - would sound gross or unappealing.

That's why they say you don't want to watch the sausage being made. But that doesn't mean there's anything wrong, gross, unsafe or unacceptable about the sausage itself. It just means that some attention-whore like Jim Avila - using the right scary words, the right clever editing and the right gross images - could get you alarmed and troubled even if you really have no reason to feel that way.

And when this is done intentionally to a company that suffers as a result, that is not protected by the First Amendment and the company should be able to sue your ass off. This is the kind of crap that causes people not to trust the news media, but the media don't seem to care because they just keep on doing it. Maybe if it costs them a few hundred million, they'll start giving some serious thought to reporting the truth instead of what they do now.

Here is the original report:

Dan's new novel, BACKSTOP, is a story of spiritual warfare and baseball. Download it from Amazon here!