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article imageABC, Diane Sawyer slammed with $1.2 billion lawsuit

By Larry Clifton     Sep 13, 2012 in Business
In March, ABC News reported on Beef Products Inc. over its food products, allegedly reporting that the food it manufactured was not safe, not meat and not healthy, dubbing it “pink slime.”
Now, it’s ABC that is in the news, after Beef Products Inc. slammed the broadcaster with a $1.2 billion lawsuit, according to a Chicago Times report.
The South Dakota meat processor has accused ABC of misleading viewers with claims about the company’s products, including broadcasts that pegged what ABC referred to as “pink slime” as unsafe to eat.
Beef Products Inc., located near Dakota Dunes, is suing ABC for alleged false public broadcasts it aired about the company and its "lean finely textured beef," claiming that the reports have cost the company much of its business and hundreds of millions of dollars in profit.
"The lawsuit is without merit," Jeffrey Schneider, senior vice president of ABC News, a unit of Walt Disney Co., said in a statement. "We will contest it vigorously."
However, six individuals are separately named in a lawsuit, including ABC News anchor Diane Sawyer, and ABC reporters Jim Avila and David Kerley.
ABC conducted a "sustained and vicious disinformation campaign," Beef Products' lawyer Dan Webb, chairman of Winston & Strawn and a former U.S. attorney in Chicago, said at a press briefing.
"To call a food product slime is the most pejorative term that could be imagined," he said. "ABC's constant repetition of it, night after night after night, had a huge impact on the consuming public."
"Constitutionally, the plaintiff has to show ABC knew what it was broadcasting was false, or had very strong reasons to know, and ignored them," said Bruce Rosen, a partner and media law specialist at McCusker, Anselmi, Rosen & Carvelli in Florham Park, New Jersey. "It's a very hard standard to overcome. Dan Webb will have his hands full."
However Beef Products filed its 263-page complaint in Union County Circuit Court in South Dakota and it’s said to contain nearly 200 allegedly false, defamatory and disparaging statements in on-air and online reports, including social media postings.
Beef Products claims the aftermath of ABC reports, which it maintains were false, forced the shutdown of three out of four of the company’s plants, and left 700 people unemployed, or roughly half its workforce. The resulting loss of business reportedly cost the company more than $20 million a month in lost earnings.
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