ABC settles 'Pink Slime' case and media breathes sigh of relief

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"Pink slime."

You'd figure that was some sophomoric epithet found in a President Trump tweet, inveighing against the press.

In fact, it's the key phrase in an important lawsuit that went virtually uncovered of late and was settled yesterday. Maybe the lack of coverage involves the absence of Trump or Russia. Or the fact that the press couldn't figure out how to get to the courthouse in Elk Point, South Dakota. But it just dodged a big bullet.

ABC and Beef Products Inc. settled an important defamation case three weeks into a trial that alleged the network knowingly used false information in a series that asserted Lean Finely Textured Beef was "pink slime."

The product is blended with ground beef to reduce fat content. As a result of a 2012 series fronted by anchor Diane Sawyer and reported by correspondent Jim Avila, the privately held family company said it suffered huge negative consequences, including shutting three of four plants.

The company, which was represented by prominent Chicago trial attorney Dan Webb, sought $1.9 billion. Terms weren't announced but, as the Sioux City Journal put it, "Judging from the celebratory mood of BPI officials and their lawyers Wednesday morning, one could conclude that terms of the settlement were favorable to the company."

ABC said, "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.” Avila expressed disappointment that he wasn't able to testify and defend his reporting.

You can believe that ABC didn't defame the company or its product. But, as a prominent media lawyer friend noted, there was the distinct possibility that a jury in a red state would hammer a "mainstream media" company of the sort reviled by Trump and partisans. And there's a weird, perhaps unconstitutional, state law that allows for triple damages in the agriculture-related case.

It's all the more risky with a company that argued that jobs were lost. And it's an age in which Gawker got put out of business by Hulk Hogan, Rolling Stone screwed up its Virginia rape story and CNN just blew it big time. And Trump keeps hammering the "fake news" New York Times and Washington Post.

Chances are that, a belief in its innocence aside, ABC figured that it would be best to have this quietly disappear, all the more so given coverage that didn't go much beyond the Hollywood Reporter and the Sioux City Journal, among others.

It ran the risk of something pretty bad happening, a la Gawker. It would spend lots of money in both finishing the trial (held in the courthouse basement) that was in the backyard of the meat industry and probably in seeking to reverse a losing jury verdict.

And, come to think of it, it would give Sean Hannity fodder for two or three of those seemingly endless unedited rants against the evil mainstream media.

Oh, for all you city slickers dependent on Whole Foods, be informed that the company invented a gizmo to separate bits of lean beef from packinghouse trimming, thus hiking the amount of meat derived from cattle carcasses.

"In the process," informs the Sioux City Journal, "trimmings are heated and spun in a centrifuge to separate the lean meat from the fat before being treated with a puff of ammonium hydroxide gas to kill harmful bacteria. Later marketed as Lean Finely Textured Beef, the product was blended with ground beef to reduce fat content and sold in grocery stores and used by large fast-food chains and food service companies."

It was an Agriculture Department microbiologist who coined the "pink slime" term, not fond of the product being called ground beef.

Cable ratings

"Cable News Ratings: MSNBC, CNN, Fox News Post Double-Digit Growth in Q2." (Variety)

"In total day, Fox News led with 1.47 million total viewers, up 27 percent from the same period last year. Of those, 314,000 fell in the adults 25-54 demographic, up 46 percent from last year. MSNBC was second in total viewers with 886,000, up 73 percent. MSNBC was third in total day in the demo, however, with 206,000 for an increase of 57 percent. CNN was third in total viewers with 788,000 for an increase of 25 percent, but second in the demo with 262,000 (up 39 percent)."

A passionate plea at The Times

The New York Times' heart and soul includes a legion of great copy editors. I had the good fortune to deal with several for two and a half years, as they edited a twice-a-week column, and was taken by their intelligence and precision. They saved my butt on multiple occasions.

But a plan to boost reporting capabilities by buying out some of them, and thus reducing the traditional numbers of copy editors inspecting each story, prompted a very passionate protest letter to the newsroom's upper echelon. (Poynter)

"We have begun the humiliating process of justifying our continued presence at The New York Times. We take some solace in the fact that we have been assured repeatedly that copy editors are highly respected here."

"Cutting us down to 50 to 55 editors from more than 100, and expecting the same level of quality in the report, is dumbfoundingly unrealistic. Work with us on a new number."

The paper argues that the current system was based on a print-only model and, amid changes brought by the internet and changing market conditions, it needs to make process changes that don't diminish the ranks of those producing content.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, be warned

She told the nation during a lame briefing Tuesday that it should look at a video, for whose integrity she couldn't vouch, that includes a CNN producer badmouthing the coverage of the Russia story.

It was by the right-wing ideologues at Project Veritas‘ and shows CNN Health‘s supervising producer chiding his own network over Russia scandal coverage. But did taking that video break the law? Law Newz, the site founded by Dan Abrams, makes such a case.

All politics, er, sports are local

Chicago baseball reporters in Washington to cover a Cubs-Nationals series figured that a big part of their day would be a get-together among team members and Trump at the White House.

Oops. The sudden and surprising decision to release a top player prompted a far better story after that player badmouthed a teammate. So the saga of Miguel Montero trumped Trump. (Poynter)

What's up with all the home runs?

Baseball geeks are nearing orgasms dissecting dueling theories as to why Major League players are hitting so many more home runs. Now Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight suggests the most plausible involve some subtle changes in the Haitian-made baseball itself.

"The range of acceptable measurements is so wide that, according to a 2000 report commissioned by MLB, two balls could both pass inspection even if they were constructed so differently that one would be hit 49 feet further than the other. My own research shows that drag alone could lead to a 30-foot difference in fly ball distance, which fits the results of controlled experiments on official baseballs."

Uber vs. Alphabet

"Uber has for the first time laid out its case to prove Alphabet’s allegations of theft of trade secrets are false. And now Alphabet is alleging Uber’s latest claims are part of a pattern of covering up what really happened.

Uber came under scrutiny after it acquired self-driving trucking startup Otto, a business founded by Anthony Levandowski, who previously led Alphabet’s autonomous vehicle business, now called Waymo.” (Recode)

Finding an FCC ally

Trump is going with Brendan Carr, a former telecom lawyer who currently serves as the agency’s general counsel.

Carr’s nomination — confirmed to Recode on Wednesday by two sources, then the White House — gives the FCC’s current chairman, Ajit Pai, a reliable political ally as he continues his push to deregulate the telecom industry, including recent efforts to scrap the government’s existing net neutrality rules.

Refusing to let facts intrude

"President Donald Trump attacked Amazon on Wednesday, claiming incorrectly that it owns The Washington Post in a scheme to dodge “internet taxes.” (Recode)

"In fact, Amazon doesn’t own the newspaper. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos bought it himself. And while there isn’t a federal 'internet tax,' as Trump contends, Amazon has worked out arrangements with states to collect sales taxes on consumers’ online purchases — all the while seeking a national solution that many Republicans long have opposed."

The morning babble

"Trump & Friends" boasted a big chum, Anthony Scaramucci, subject of the now-retracted CNN story about his alleged ties to a Russian bank. It's the one that prompted the exit of three employees.

Scaramucci, who's now chief strategist at the Export-Import Bank, was rather more measured than his trio of inquisitors about CNN's screw-up. He voiced sympathy about competitive fervor, while dismissing the Russia story in general as exaggerated. He desisted from any name calling.

CNN remained unbowed, certainly on air, with its primary theme being "Official Struggle to Convince Trump of Russia Threat." There wer references to "senior administration officials" trying to move him, as well as well as "a source familiar with the private meeting" between a top national security official and a congressional panel. It was Russia over and over and over, with the same white male former military, security and diplomatic experts as many mornings.

MSNBC leavened matters by suggesting we rush to the nearest magazine rack ASAP since GQ has co-host Joe Scarborough on the cover. Its cadre of white male pundits delved into White House disarray, in particular Politico's tale of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson supposedly being treated shabbily and being "at his breaking point," said Willie Geist. "The level of chaos has never been seen before," said Mark Halperin.

Airline bulletin

"Robert Durst is refusing to pay for the dog sitter and extra legroom requested by a retired NYPD detective scheduled to fly to Los Angeles next month and appear as a defense witness in his murder case." (New York Daily News)

This is why I hate it when I have to fly commercial.

Can things get worse for Uber?

"Waymo is pushing back on Uber's defense, arguing in new court documents that the ride-hailing company not only knew that a former Waymo employee had downloaded proprietary files, but that it also set up legal mechanisms to cover that up." (Axios)

"Cover up: Waymo argues that Uber struck a deal with Anthony Levandowski, a former Waymo employee whose startup it was acquiring, that he submit to a due diligence investigation in exchange for indemnification. Uber either knew or suspected that he had stolen files in his possession and set up a legal agreement to protect both parties, says Waymo."

What does Trump think on health care?

With polling showing that even Republicans are chagrined with the Senate plan, a four-byline Washington Post look at the GOP disarray opens with senators' Tuesday meeting with Trump and apparently clashing takes on what actually went on.

"White House officials and Trump loyalists saw a president diving in to patch up strife and save legislation that had been curbed in the Senate. Some seasoned senators, however, saw a president unable to grasp policy details or the obstacles ahead, and talked with each other after the gathering about what they saw as a bizarre scene. That Republican disconnect has been a constant ever since the Senate health bill was unveiled."

A big idea

"Is Big Philanthropy Compatible with Democracy?"

The Atlantic takes on the intriguing topic broached at the Aspen Ideas Festival. Richard Posner, a famously brainy and provocative Chicago federal judge, likens a charitable foundation to "a hereditary monarch" not subject to political controls.

"It’s a genuine dilemma. At its worst, big philanthropy represents less an exercise of individual freedom," says Stanford's Bob Reich, "than a tax-subsidized means of taking private profit and converting it into public power. And he argued that big foundations possess the leverage to bend policy in their favored direction in a coercive manner, pointing to the example of the Gates Foundation’s funding of educational reform."

Commuter hell

Nice use of video of people jammed and hustling to trains in Bloomberg's "Penn Station Is New York’s Commuter Hell, and It’s About to Get Worse." Yup. It captures the glum and inefficient frenzy.

Corrections? Tips? Please email me: jwarren@poynter.org. Would you like to get this roundup emailed to you every morning? Sign up here.

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    James Warren

    New York City native, graduate of Collegiate School, Amherst College and Roosevelt University. Married to Cornelia Grumman, dad of Blair and Eliot. National columnist, U.S. News & World Report. Former managing editor and Washington Bureau Chief, Chicago Tribune.

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