Some journalists aren’t content with covering the news; they have to make it, too. That’s been ABC’s strategy as the network has led the charge against USDA-approved beef. That agenda has put at least 600 jobs in jeopardy as the targeted company suspended operations in three separate plants.
ABC’s Jim Avila has been out in front of the issue, repeatedly calling the beef “pink slime,” a term a former USDA employee coined. In all, ABC used the term “pink slime” 52 times in just a two-week span.
The reports had an impact. Few companies can survive an extensive media assault – even when it’s on a safe and legal product we’ve all been eating for two decades. In this case, ABC cost jobs. American Meat Institute President J. Patrick Boyle put the blame directly on ABC’s biased coverage.
“Congratulations, ‘ABC World News.’ Your relentless coverage and uninformed criticism of a safe and wholesome beef product has now delivered a hook for yet another nightly news broadcast,” he wrote.
ABC was unapologetic about its own role in the possible loss of 600 jobs, saying Beef Products, Inc. "came out swinging" and would try a public relations push "to restore confidence in its product." While Avila did admit that the company blamed "social media and news organizations specifically ABC News," ABC conveniently only referred to the beef as "pink slime" twice in this broadcast. That's eight times less than their last report.
The Associated Press story on the furloughs continued the string of biased attacks against the company. AP’s story was headlined: “‘Pink slime’ maker halts some plants.” “Beef Products Inc. spokesman Craig Letch on Monday told The Associated Press about the operations suspensions at plants in Texas, Kansas and Iowa ahead of a public announcement about the plan. The company's plant at its Dakota Dunes, S.D., headquarters will continue operations,” AP reported.
Naturally, AP turned to the food police for comment, relying on food extremist Marion Nestle, a professor at New York University’s Department of Nutrition, Food Studies and Public Health, and “celebrity chef Jamie Oliver.” Oliver, who has a reported net worth of $25 million,  was unconcerned about the job loss and “praised ‘people power’ for getting it removed from so many products,” according to AP.
AP’s coverage was similar to how ABC handled the whole beef issue. The meat, often called lean finely textured beef, is made up of beef that is just harder to get at. It requires special processing so the meat isn’t lost. It’s treated to get rid of the fat and included with the rest of the ground beef. The USDA declares it healthy, but it is less expensive. As an added bonus, it is treated tiny amounts of ammonium hydroxide to make it safer to eat.
ABC relied on the agenda of a couple of “whistleblowers” who didn’t like the company’s beef, which one activist dubbed “pink slime.”
In his March 22 report about stores pulling the beef, Avila and anchor Diane Sawyer kept calling the meat “pink slime” repeatedly – 10 times in all.
None of the broadcast stories mentioned that the company takes the extra step of adding ammonium hydroxide in an effort to prevent deadly E. coli bacteria. Mom Nancy Donley  lost her only son to the disease when he ate “contaminated ground beef back in 1993 when he was only 6 years old.”
Ironically, ABC has covered the dangers of E. coli in beef in the past. When Topps Meat Co. recalled more than 21 million pounds of meat in 2007, it sent the company into bankruptcy. ABC mentioned the story eight times including one Sept. 30, 2007, piece that highlighted the danger with a quote from one 15-year-old victim. “It almost cost my life, and I was just scared the whole time, just thinking, if I was even going to make it. And I didn't want a silly burger just to kill me,” she told ABC.
Of course, this is ABC, which had a dose of similar slimy food ethics when its reporters cooperated with unions to go undercover at Food Lion. That case became a classic example of out-of-control TV journalists in quest for awards, not professionalism. ABC initially lost in court but won on appeal, though it still earned a much-deserved black eye in the process.