In a story I have been watching for a few months, Beef Products Inc. — known as BPI — has sued ABC News for $1.2 billion its "pink slime" reporting earlier this year. BPI sued in South Dakota state court; I'm in the process of seeking the complaint.
The beef industry has previously been aggressive in suing people who criticize it, often with disastrous results, and is one of the industries that has used its political clout to persuade compliant legislatures to pass "food defamation laws" that make it easier to sue people who speak ill of their products. South Dakota is such a state; I suspect we'll see causes of action under that state's food defamation law.
I'll report on the complaint when I get it. Key issues to watch for: how much specificity does it use to identify allegedly defamatory statements? How many of those statements are opinions, as opposed to facts? How many of those statements are reports of what third parties say, as opposed to ABC's own conclusions?
This could wind up as a very interesting First Amendment battle — as well as an opportunity to question why we should let powerful industries buy their own don't-be-mean-to-me laws. But let's not prejudge — it might also be a good exposition of problems with the way the media reports on scientific or technical issues. Or it could be both. Stay tuned.
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