business news in context, analysis with attitude

The New York Times reports that ABC News and Beef Products Inc. have reached a confidential settlement in the so-called pink slime case, in which the network was accused of defaming the meat producer with its reports about low-cost processed “lean finely textured beef," which was sprayed with ammonia and used as filler in ground beef.

ABC News ran several stories about the subject, though Beef Products will have to prove that it was intentionally malicious in its coverage and use of the word "slime," which it says is the most offensive word that could've been used to describe its products.

While the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has approved the use of "lean finely textured beef," one of its staff microbiologists actually is the person who coined the allegedly negative term, "pink slime."

The settlement brings to an end what was expected to be an eight-week jury trial.

The Times reports that "ABC News has not retracted or apologized for its report, which remains available on its website." In a statement, the network called the resolution "amicable," adding that "throughout this case, we have maintained that our reports accurately presented the facts and views of knowledgeable people about this product. Although we have concluded that continued litigation of this case is not in the company’s interests, we remain committed to the vigorous pursuit of truth and the consumer’s right to know about the products they purchase.”

For its part, Beef Products Inc. said that it was “extraordinarily pleased” to reach the settlement, which would give it “a strong foundation on which to grow the business ... While this has not been an easy road to travel, it was necessary to begin rectifying the harm we suffered as a result of what we believed to be biased and baseless reporting in 2012. Through this process, we have again established what we all know to be true about lean finely textured beef: it is beef, and is safe, wholesome, and nutritious."

ABC News could have been on the hook for more than $6 billion if it lost the case.
KC's View:
I was never quite comfortable with the network's concession that its reporting engaged in "imaginative expression" and "rhetorical hyperbole." That's the mind of stuff I do...but I'm a pundit, and I label the commentary as such.

That said, I always thought the best defense would have been that the company was not being transparent about what was in its ground beef, and that it falls within the purview of a journalistic organization to report on such a lack of transparency.

I'm glad there was a settlement, but I hope both sides learned a lesson. ABC, that it should avoid "imaginative expression" and "rhetorical hyperbole." And Beef Products, that it ought to be more transparent.

I hope they learned a lesson. But I'm dubious.