ELK POINT, S.D. | The key word used by a BPI expert witness Monday to describe ABC News' Lean Finely Textured Beef broadcasts was "unprecedented."
BPI, in the 16th day of its $1.9 billion defamation lawsuit, sought to demonstrate how much negative, damaging publicity was generated by ABC during broadcasts in March and April 2012. The network referred to BPI's LFTB product as "pink slime."
Kimberly Neuendorf, a communications professor at Cleveland State University and an expert in "content analysis" -- the study of media communications -- was brought in by BPI to review and analyze ABC's LFTB stories.
After an exhaustive analysis of the LFTB stories, Neuendorf concluded that ABC's reports were the "primary driver of consumer concern" about LFTB. That concern, BPI claims, led to panic, and complaints to supermarkets. The stores eventually bowed to consumers' wishes, pulling LFTB from their shelves and bringing BPI to its knees.
ABC produced a total of 131 communications on LFTB, including broadcasts, Tweets and Facebook posts in March and April 2012, an amount of coverage Neuendorf called "intensive."
ABC's stories set the American media universe abuzz -- social media, major broadcasters and national newspapers were quickly saturated with "pink slime" coverage.
"The coverage is quite extensive, it covers quite a lot of different platforms," Neuendorf said.
The amount of coverage ABC dedicated to LFTB, Neuendorf said, amounted to something more than just news reporting.
"I find it fits the definition of a 'public communication campaign' quite well," Neuendorf said. Such campaigns aren't launched to produce financial benefit, but are intended for the good of the people -- in this case, to warn the public about the supposedly inferior meat product they didn't know they were eating.
ABC was not the first to use the term "pink slime," Neuendorf admitted. Other media outlets made use of the phrase before -- especially in January 2012, when fast-food chain McDonald's announced it would no longer use LFTB.
Few other media entities were as thorough in their usage of the pejorative term "pink slime," however.
"Diane Sawyer, in all of the broadcasts, never said 'LFTB,'" Neuendorf said.
'Peaks in activity'
BPI displayed a series of graphs prepared by Neuendorf, which showed how "pink slime" went from being a little-used media term to a household name overnight after the first ABC broadcast using it in March 2012.
"Pink slime" saw "very little detectable activity" until the broadcasts aired, Neuendorf said, when "there were very large, noticeable spikes or peaks in activity." Thousands started using the term on Twitter and Facebook.
For a period after the initial broadcasts, "pink slime" was the No. 1 most-searched-for phrase on Google.
During his cross-examination of Neuendorf, ABC attorney Dane Butswinkas attempted to cast doubt on ABC's culpability in the "pink slime" hysteria. He focused on earlier news reports that had cropped up before ABC picked up the story, around the time McDonald's announced it would no longer use LFTB.
These reports included a January 2012 story from the Huffington Post headlined, "Pink Slime, Ammonium Hydroxide Fast Food Ground Beef Additive, Dropped By McDonald’s Et Al.," and another, published the same day by Business Insider, titled "McDonald's Is Changing Its Burger Recipe To Take The 'Pink Slime' Out Of Its Meat."
The trial will resume Tuesday, and BPI is expected to rest its case soon.