It is claimed (Hot Type, February 7) that regarding Food Lion’s suit against ABC-TV for its story on alleged unsanitary food handling practices the “truth of their report was no defense; it wasn’t even an issue.” Oh, but it was.
Many reporters, in a defense of their unethical brethren, have asserted erroneously that Food Lion never directly challenged the substance of ABC’s report. In a letter to the network, Richard Wyatt, attorney for Food Lion, wrote: “Food Lion has publicly maintained since the night of the PrimeTime Live broadcast on Nov. 5, 1992, that the show was false.” In truth, ABC, through its lawyers, opposed every attempt by Food Lion to introduce evidence of the falsity of the show.
The public does have a right to know, both about the way its food is handled and the way its “news” is manufactured. The fact is that ABC wanted a blockbuster scandal for ratings sweeps week and the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) needed to embarrass Food Lion, where its efforts to organize Food Lion employees had failed miserably. To achieve their mutual ends, both were willing to engage in fraud and deceit.
When ABC “investigators” initially failed to get jobs at Food Lion because they had no supermarket experience or grocery job references, the UFCW, which brought the ABC Food Lion “story” in the first place, put pressure on a Pennsylvania grocery store to provide fraudulent references. If the supermarket chain couldn’t be unionized, the UFCW reasoned, it had to be destroyed by any means.
Once inside, the ABC reporters did not so much report what was going on as stage it themselves. One ABC investigator took chickens whose sell-by dates had expired and put them out for sale herself, and then instructed an ABC undercover cameraman to videotape the chickens. In other instances, it was the ABC reporter who misdated turkey parts and flounder, each time ignoring explicit instructions from legitimate Food Lion employees.
Viewers of PrimeTime Live saw about 10 minutes out of 45 hours of video. The rest of the video shows that ABC knew its claims against Food Lion were false, and even worse, that ABC’s producers in several instances created the very same unsanitary conditions they were purporting to expose.
The unbroadcast portion of the video frequently shows one of the undercover ABC producers unsuccessfully inciting her fellow deli workers to engage in unsafe and unsanitary food handling. ABC aired footage of a dirty meat slicer, not telling viewers it had been the job of the undercover ABC reporter to clean it. Later, when another, legitimate Food Lion employee comes along and cleans the meat slicer, the ABC producer is audibly heard cursing under her breath. That part of the video was never broadcast.
The fact is that ABC News conspired with the UFCW to manufacture a scare story–ABC because it wanted high ratings, and the UFCW because it wanted to hobble Food Lion’s expansion plans. The Constitution guarantees a free press, not the right to engage in fraud and deceit. In the interests of free speech and the public’s right to know, let’s tell the whole story.
Daniel John Sobieski