June 14, 2017 Last Updated 8:52 am

Diane Sawyer testifies in case that could cost ABC News over $1.9B; NBC News continues to draw fire for Jones interview

Morning Brief: Lawsuit, brought by local beef business, is being heard by a jury in South Dakota, and centers on the fairness of a report concerning a ground beef additive

A terrifying high-rise apartment fire occurred in west London last night, with reports putting the death toll so far at six, with at least 74 injured. Reports that the building did not have working fire alarms will inevitably lead to an inquest into the causes of the fire and the reaction to it at the 24-story complex.

“I anticipate that the number of fatalities will sadly rise,” Met police commander Stuart Cundy told reporters.

Then, this morning, a gun man opened fire on Republican Congressmen gathered to play baseball in Alexandria. Several people were shot including majority whip Steve Scalise and a Congressional aide. Both The Washington Post and Breitbart opened comments on the shooting news story, while the NYT chose to close them. Read into that what you may, but I continue to consider the Post’s comments policy to be an abomination, and a cynical effort to build web traffic.

These two stories have temporarily replaced the president and the Russian investigation from leading major news outlet websites, but two lawsuits will soon attract the public’s attention. The first one is the more commonly followed story — the Bill Cosby lawsuit which has reached the jury deliberation stage, with a verdict due as early as today.

The second involves ABC News, and is taking place in South Dakota. It concerns a story the network ran on “Lean Finely Textured Beef” where ABC referred to the product that is added to ground beef as pink slime. Beef Products Inc. is suing the network over its reporting, alleging “product disparagement” and demanding $1.9 billion in damages. The case could seriously damage the network, just as the food manufacturer claims ABC damaged its business.

With so much major news breaking each day, this case is not going to get the attention it deserves, but the local media where the lawsuit is taking place is covering the story on a daily basis. Yesterday, news anchor Diane Sawyer testified in the case, saying she felt the reporting seemed fair.

But this case is being heard in a community where the opinion of the media, especially the east coast media, is not positive, and where the beef industry is an important local business. So, while Sawyer may have felt the report fair, the jury has already heard from Janet Riley, the senior vice president of public affairs for the North American Meat Institute, who said that they complained to ABC News about the fairness of the report, saying no representative from the industry was put on camera.

Sioux City Journal, Nick Hytrek:

Expert didn’t think ABC’s Avila wanted both sides of BPI story

David Theno refers to himself as one of the foremost experts in ground beef in the United States.

A microbiologist and meat scientist who owns a food safety consulting firm, Theno told lawyers for Beef Products Inc. and ABC that he has studied how ground beef is produced and the pathogens that can contaminate it.

So when he was called by ABC News correspondent Jim Avila in March 2012 about BPI’s product, Lean Finely Textured Beef, Theno said, he was open to discussing the product and how it was made. What he wasn’t ready for, he said, was to be told he was not credible and knew nothing about ground beef. He also didn’t expect to have an expletive dropped on him before being hung up on.

“He told me I didn’t know a damn thing about it. I was a shill for the company, and he hung up,” Theno said in a video deposition shown to jurors Monday.

Sioux City Journal, Nick Hytrek:

Sawyer called ABC beef reports factual, fair

As a news anchor, Diane Sawyer didn’t do any of the reporting on ABC’s series of stories about Lean Finely Textured Beef. But her job included reviewing the scripts of stories ABC did on the subject and raising any concerns she had.

The reporting done by correspondent Jim Avila in a March 7, 2012, story, which referred to Beef Products Inc.’s signature product as “pink slime,” was solid, Sawyer told lawyers in a video deposition shown to jurors Tuesday.

“I read the script and it seemed to be factual and fair and seemed to be credible reporting,” Sawyer said in the deposition, conducted by BPI attorney Dan Webb.

Meanwhile, it is hard to understand just what is in the minds of NBC News management. It has recently gone on a Fox News hiring spree, and now is dealing with a predictable controversy involving Megyn Kelly’s upcoming program feating an interview with InfoWars nutcase Alex Jones. NBC calls Kelly a journalist, but Margaret Sullivan rightly labels her an entertainer.

Criticism of the interview is, of course, a bit premature as the segment has not aired. But one wonders just what NBC will do should Kelly’s ploys fail to deliver the desired ratings.

Already advertisers are pulling out, fearing a backlash by consumers upset that NBC is giving voice to such despicable characters.

Associated Press:

Megyn Kelly’s interview with conspiracy theorist Alex Jones to air despite outcry

NBC News is moving ahead with plans to air Megyn Kelly’s interview with conspiracy theorist Alex Jones this weekend despite a backlash that has cost the show advertisers and led to Kelly being dropped as host for an event by an organization founded by parents of children killed at Sandy Hook elementary school…

…“What I think we’re doing is journalism,” she said. “The bottom line is that while it’s not always popular, it’s important. I would submit to you that neither I nor NBC News has elevated Alex Jones in any way. He’s been elevated by 5 or 6 million viewers or listeners, and by the president of the United States. As you know, journalists don’t get the choice over who has power or influence in our country.”

Sandy Hook Promise, an anti-gun violence group, said it had asked Kelly to step down as host of its Wednesday-night gala in Washington. The group said it cannot support Kelly or NBC’s decision to give a platform to Jones and hopes NBC reconsiders its plan to broadcast the interview, said Nicole Hockley, co-founder and managing director. Hockley, whose 6-year-old son, Dylan, was killed at Sandy Hook, founded the organization with Mark Barden, who lost his 7-year-old son, Daniel.

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