It’s one of the most high-stakes defamation battles in U.S. history. The case highlights the complexity of business litigation, with a range of issues to present to the jury, including product disparagement, tortious interference and libel.
Expected to run eight weeks, the case has Beef Products Inc. (BPI) pitted against ABC, owned by Walt Disney Co.
Between March 7 and April 3, 2012, ABC and its reporter Jim Avila used the term “pink slime” for BPI’s product. ABC says “pink slime” is a common media term for what meat packers call lean, finely textured beef (LFTB). The substance is made from beef chunks and scraps, and exposed to ammonia to kill bacteria. The focus of ABC’s story was whether ground beef labels had to disclose this.
BPI must show ABC intentionally harmed the meat producer, or knew it was reporting falsely. BPI claims that ABC’s reports used unreliable sources and sensationalism, and amounted to “fake news.” That hot-button claim could gain traction.
How Much Can News Coverage Damage a Company?
BPI reported revenue drops of 80% after ABC discussed its product in 11 broadcasts and 14 publications.
LFTB was once in most U.S. ground beef, but after ABC’s reports, grocery and fast-food chains shunned it, and BPI closed three of its four factories.
BPI’s lawsuit includes 13 claims for product disparagement, 13 libel counts, and a claim of tortious interference with contractual relations. ABC hold the position that the reporting was accurate, and protected by constitutional safeguards for speech and the right to a free press.