In September of last year, ABC News was hit with a lawsuit over a “World News” report that referred to “lean, finely textured beef” as “pink slime.” The suit was filed in South Dakota, which is the home of the company in question, and also has a fairly robust “veggie libel” law, which prohibits making defamatory statements about food products.
In an in-depth analysis, Reuters looks into the case, and finds that while ABC has the advantage, it is not a sure bet. ABC is pushing one definition of “slime,” while the defendant is pushing another. In addition, ABC notes that even in states with veggie libel laws, things like restaurant reviews are protected, so their coverage should be too.
While the case is in the early stages, the network appears to have a legal leg-up on both counts: ABC never said BPI’s product is dangerous, and courts have repeatedly offered broad protections for journalists in the course of their work.
Among them: Twitter exchanges between Jim Avila, the lead ABC reporter on the story and a defendant in the case, and meat industry officials and other critics of his reporting.
One of his tweets has become central to BPI’s claims that the network falsely stated that LFTB is not meat. In that tweet last March, Avila wrote in a reply to a critical viewer that “no one said this slime is dangerous. It’s just not what it purports to be. Meat. And if it’s in ground beef it should be labeled.”
ABC’s lawyers have said in their court papers that this “single brief statement” was directed at “a very limited audience” and should be understood as protected opinion.