How ABC News Created and Stoked the ‘Pink Slime’ Scare

by Eliana Johnson

I write on the homepage about the twelve reports that ABC’s flagship broadcast, World News, did in March and April of 2012 on the beef product it referred to as “pink slime.” Lean finely textured beef, as its producers call it, was invented as a response to the E. coli scare of the early 1990s during which three toddlers died after eating undercooked Jack in the Box burgers. The product not only lowered the price of ground beef but was revolutionary supposedly because it inoculated any beef it touched against bacteria including E. coli and salmonella. 

There was some debate about the effectiveness with which it did so, but that’s not what ABC told its viewers about. Instead, Diane Sawyer and her team set off a panic by delivering “stunning” and “startling” revelations to viewers about the nefarious product that might be lurking in their food. The result was that the company that produces lean finely textured beef was forced to close three of its four factories and to lay off over 650 employees; it has now sued ABC News for a whopping $1.2 billion. My piece is about the underlying factors that have led ABC to produce an increasingly sensationalist, consumer-oriented broadcast, and about the news division’s larger slide away from traditional news and toward entertainment.