Last week, I opined that while few cattlemen disagree that ABC News’ coverage of lean finely textured beef (LFTB) in ground beef was inaccurate and intentionally misled consumers by ignoring the facts, even after BPI set the record straight, I didn’t believe there was much hope for success with the $1.2-billion lawsuit.
I still don’t. I’m sure you remember the lawsuit filed against Oprah over her misleading and inherently inaccurate coverage over BSE. Suing Oprah was akin to suing Santa Claus. Even in Amarillo, TX, it was going to be difficult to find a jury that would have held Oprah accountable for the damage she inflicted on the cattle industry by presenting a biased and knowingly inaccurate portrayal of the BSE situation.
Historically, reputable news outlets and Americans’ love and support of the First Amendment have made it virtually impossible to successfully sue any news organization for its coverage, regardless of its inaccuracies or intentional biases. Americans still love the First Amendment, and thus they will hold any challenge to it to a very high standard.
But one thing certainly has changed and that is people’s perception of the role of the mass media. The demise of the traditional news organizations coupled with the rise of cable networks and the Internet has shattered not only the mainstream media’s monopoly on providing information, but also the myth that they were somehow unbiased or factually based. Personally, as someone who provides commentary, I understand that it is important for people to be able to express their views. Nevertheless, there should be limits to how one should be allowed to express those views --not only morally and ethically, but legally as well.
Americans are aware that virtually all news coverage is biased. In many ways the removal of the facade of unbiased journalism has made consumers of media coverage far more astute than in the past. We also understand that media’s failure to provide the facts in an unbiased way cannot only do irreparable harm to individuals, businesses and industries, but that the abuse of power will harm the country in general.
As a society, we castigate politicians and the two major political parties for not addressing the real problems facing our country in a meaningful way. The deficit is a great example. Sure, we can point to the inability of politicians to lead and live within their means, we can even accurately make the case that the president and Congress would be put in prison for fraud if they were running a public company and “cooked” the books like they do in Washington.
But even today, a politician who advocates a decrease in the rise of spending is accused of making barbaric cuts to the budget. Politicians do respond to voter signals; signals that have been largely shaped by media gatekeepers that refuse to allow meaningful reform see the light of day.
While ABC News is not seen in the same light as Oprah, the lawsuit by BPI is still facing very long odds. There is growing sentiment, however, that the media has an obligation to provide all the facts when it is pretending to conduct unbiased journalism.
ABC News was given the facts, and had reputable sources telling them what they were putting out was inaccurate, wrong and harmful. I remain highly skeptical, but there is a possibility that a jury will stand up and say that the media not only has the right to free speech, but that there are some basic responsibilities that go along with that right.
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