In the first ABC News segment, Avila made numerous errors in describing the product known as lean, fine textured beef. Avila said it was made from “beef trimmings.” In fact, it’s meat from the trimmings, not the trimmings themselves. Avila also said it was “once used only in dog food.” Also, wrong. Trimmings were used for animal food until an economically-feasible way of extracting the meat for humans was invented. Avila also reported on the process “to make them safe to eat.” In order to create a more scintillating story and scare viewers, Avila highlighted that beef is “sprayed with ammonia” when it is actually treated with ammonia gas, not ammonia. Additionally, Avila ignored that ammonia is present in all beef as a naturally occurring substance. Ammonia hydroxide is used as a safety measure precisely because beef already has it naturally. As with the hype on the presence of BPA, saying something exists doesn’t back up any claim that it’s unsafe.
Once you’ve established a whistleblower and amped up the drama by misconstruing facts, you have to get the public involved. There’s no better way to do this than exploiting the gross factor. There’s a reason why people don’t want to see sausage being made. The saying isn’t meant to imply that sausage is unsafe, but that it’s not a line of work for everyone. Regarding the response to his book about working conditions in the meatpacking industry, Upton Sinclair said, “I aimed at the public's heart, and by accident I hit it in the stomach.”
As a former vegetarian and someone who rarely eats red meat, watching ABC News’ b-roll footage of butchering isn’t particularly appetizing, but that doesn’t make beef unsafe to consume. Add to this Avila’s obsession with calling the product “pink slime” and soon moms across the country are demanding nothing but filet mignon be served their precious snowflakes. While the 2009 New York Times report only used the phrase “pink slime” once, the Media Research Center reported that ABC News used the term 52 times in a two week span promoting Avila’s investigation. He also laughably said this beef product was “widely known now as ‘pink slime’” when it wasn’t. Perhaps one thing the network can actually take credit for is popularizing the misleading term through its own reports.
Finally, to complete the award-fishing expedition, there must be some sort of demonstrable action from the report. For ABC News’ part, targeting one company, Beef Products, Inc., in their investigation has caused the company to halt production at three plants. Due in large part to ABC News sensationalizing the story, more than 600 jobs could be permanently lost. As Media Research Center said, “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.”
The deadlines for the Peabody, du Pont, and Walter Cronkite Awards are fast approaching. This isn’t Jim Avila’s Upton Sinclair moment as much as it’s his Michael Moore moment. Who needs journalistic integrity? After all, Moore won an Academy Award!
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