Monday, November 12, 2012

Court case of ABC News, ‘pink slime’ is a study in media trust

By Gene Hall

   Regardless of how you feel about the hatchet job ABC News foisted upon a perfectly honorable and legitimate company, Beef Products Inc. (BPI), and the meat business itself, the resulting court case is interesting. BPI has sued ABC News. I don’t know if they can win, but at a minimum, this should embarrass the network.
    ABC is defending itself on first amendment grounds. As a former reporter, I understand that free speech and a free press have to be almost absolute in this country, but there are limits. I blogged about this awhile back.
    At issue is a product called lean finely textured beef (LFTB), which ABC chose to portray as “pink slime.” This is a recovery process, retrieving beef close to the bone or otherwise difficult to get. It is finely ground and mixed with other ground beef. Having reviewed the process and talked to people in the know, I rest in the sure and certain knowledge that the product is absolutely safe. I’d let my granddaughter eat it today—well done of course, as all ground beef should be.
    But after the pop culture wave of protest subsided, many parents and school lunch programs concluded the safe food containing lean finely textured beef would no longer be served. It no longer mattered whether the product was safe or if ABC News had told any part of the truth. Three BPI plants went under and several families lost their jobs.
    The media company claims that “ABC News’ statements were in any case covered by the first amendment as examples of ‘imaginative expression’ and ‘rhetorical hyperbole,’ which the courts have ruled are protected speech.”
    Well—here’s what that means. Start with a definition of hyperbole: “a figure of speech in which exaggeration is used for emphasis or effect.”
    In other words, ABC believes it can “use its imagination” or “exaggerate” to tell you most anything it wants. They said that’s within the network’s first amendment rights.
    But, should you trust them, knowing they ignored facts and common sense and put Americans out of work? That’s for you to decide. I already have.

Gene Hall is public relations director with the Texas Farm Bureau

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