“Pink Slime” Defamation Trial Against ABC News Set to Begin

Jacob Gershman and Lukas I. Alpert reported yesterday at The Wall Street Journal Online that, “Opening statements in what could be the largest defamation case in U.S. history are set to begin Monday in a South Dakota courtroom.

“In suing ABC News for its coverage of a widely used processed-meat product that the news organization and others have branded ‘pink slime,’ Beef Products Inc. claims it was a victim of a journalistic hit job. The family-owned South Dakota meat processor claims the reporting reduced its revenues.

“Raising the stakes is a state food-disparagement law that allows prevailing plaintiffs to triple actual damages. Beef Products has alleged $1.9 billion in damages. That means, in theory, ABC could be hit with a nearly $6 billion judgment, not including any potential punitive damages awarded if it were to lose.”

The Journal article noted that, “ABC, a unit of Walt Disney Co. , says it never reported anything about the beef that it knew to be a lie and contends Beef Products is trying to punish it for making reasonable editorial judgments.

“The case will go before a 12-person jury at a time when opinion polls have shown declining trust in the media. In court documents, Beef Products has referred to ABC’s coverage as ‘fake news,’ a term, widely used to describe scurrilous internet reporting, that has broadened in use since the 2016 presidential election.”

Gershman and Alpert added that, “To prevail, Beef Products will have to show that ABC acted with actual malice, meaning it must prove that the news organization either knew the information was false or recklessly disregarded the truth.”

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