A central figure in Beef Products Inc.'s $1 billion defamation lawsuit against ABC News is getting a promotion.
Jim Avila, currently ABC's senior national correspondent, is moving to the White House, where he will ultimately serve as the first White House correspondent for the ABC/Univision joint venture set to complete its launch later this year, Politico blogger Dylan Beyers reported this week.
"He will work with current ABC News chief White House correspondent Jonathan Karl, leading ABC's coverage of Hispanic America, immigration reform, education, politics and other Latino issues, and will continue to contribute to "20/20," Beyers wrote.
Avila was the lead reporter for a series of ABC stories last March on BPI's Lean Finely Textured Beef. Avila and World News anchor Diane Sawyer repeatedly referred to the lean ground beef product as "pink slime."
As reports from ABC and other national news organizations spread quickly through social media sites, beef state governors rallied to BPI's defense, and organized a high-profile tour of the company's South Sioux City plant in March. Avila was in the reporter pool who followed the politicians through the plant. At a news conference that followed, he also got into an exchange from Gov. Terry Branstad and BPI co-founders Eldon and Regina Roth.
In September, BPI filed its $1 billion defamation lawsuit suit against ABC News and its parent company. Avila and Sawyer were one of six individuals also named as defendants. BPI claims ABC in less than a month made 200 defamatory statements about LFTB, causing consumers to mistakenly believe the product was unsafe and unhealthy.
As a result of ABC's actions, demand for BPI's safe, nutritious product dried up, forcing the family-owned company to close three of its four Lean, Finely Textured Beef plants and lay off more than 700 workers, according to the civil suit.
Attorneys for ABC and the other defendants moved in October to transfer the civil suit to U.S. District Court in Sioux Falls, and throw out the case. BPI is seeking to return the case to state court. A federal judge has yet to rule on the series of motions.