Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Sep 18, 2012

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In early 2012, ABC news ran a campaign that sought to enlighten its viewers about the process of producing beef used for fast food companies.  Keying in on a substance termed “pink slime,” ABC shocked many viewers in true Upton Sinclair fashion by exposing what it considered to be an unnerving secret of the inner workings of beef manufacture.  Pink slime ran its course from March to April of 2012 and many ABC viewers expressed their disgust about the substance over Twitter, Facebook, and other assorted social media outlets. 

Now, Dakota Dunes, the South Dakota based company who manufacturers the processed beef that became known as pink slime, is filing a massive lawsuit against a number of defendants including Diane Sawyer, a former quality insurance manager who gave insider information to ABC, and the Department of Agriculture scientist who coined the term “pink slime” before ABC news ran its story. 

The lawsuit seeks $1.2 billion in damages for 200 “false and misleading and defamatory” statements that the company alleges “caused consumers to believe that our lean beef is not beef at all – that it’s an unhealthy pink slime, unsafe for public consumption.” The defendants have claimed the lawsuit is baseless, and have vowed to defend themselves vigorously. 

A defamation lawsuit can only succeed if the plaintiff is able to show the statement is malicious and false, and the meat manufacturers in this case are focusing on the popular term “pink slime” because of the effect it allegedly had on consumers.   This case is interesting because it is unclear if any of the facts presented by ABC are in question: the lawsuit zeroes in on the term “pink slime” as a term that interfered with the plaintiff’s business.

Media has always sensationalized news, and, while we are a far cry from the days of William Hearst’s use of exaggeration to sell papers, news today still relies buzzwords to attract attention.  In today’s Twitter age, terms become even more important as “hash-tagged” phrases attract reader attention quickly and easily.  With news becoming more aware of the importance of key terms, phrases like “pink slime” are going to become more widely used.

The lawsuit is in its early stages, and may not be resolved for years, however, it will be interesting to keep track as the case progresses.  A defamation lawsuit that focuses less on the substance of a defendant’s words and more on the phrasing in which they are delivered can cause any media source to be aware of the catchy phrases they employ to deliver the news.