Talk show host Oprah Winfrey scored one for the First Amendment at the end of February by coming out unscathed in the lawsuit filed by Texas cattle owners. The plaintiffs, headed up by Paul Engler and The Texas Beef Group, accused Oprah and a guest on her show, Howard Lyman, of making false and disparaging statements about American beef. "If they're giving opinions, I think they should state they're giving opinions. . . . I want to see responsible reporting and responsible talk-show hosts," he said clinging to his belief that Oprah single handedly caused a drop in beef sales after the show aired in 1996.
But the jury members who walked out of the deliberating room shortly after 11:00 a.m. had a different view. The judge ordered them to base their decision on whether or not Oprah's guest, Howard Lyman, had singled out The Texas Beef Group when declaring that Mad Cow disease could be transferred to humans. Naturally, he didn't and the plaintiffs' case was lost.
"My reaction is that free speech not only lives, it rocks!" said Oprah walking out of the courthouse to be greeted by fans and media. "I believe I'm one of those people who probably took (free speech) for granted, and I will never be that way again." Perhaps this was not just a lesson for the cowboys of Amarillo Texas, but also for The Queen of Talk herself.
The lawsuit was made possible by Texas lawmakers passing a decidedly anti-free speech food disparagement law. Such laws are being passed in states across the country, basically opening the door for authorities to press charges against and food producers to file lawsuits against people that dare to speak badly about their products. When carried to the farthest extreme, average citizens could face prosecution for saying bad things about products at the grocery store without factual research to back up their statements. Obviously (or maybe not so obviously), that isn't the intent of the legislation, but we question what could possibly motivate elected officials to draft insanely unconstitutional legislation like this in the first place. Couldn't be campaign contributions from the various food industries, do you think? Hmmmmm...
Oprah Winfrey's show is clearly a talk-show featuring discussion and opinions on various issues, not a fact-based forum like the nightly news. The fact that she was forced to go to trial to defend her show is absolutely criminal in our opinion. In the USA, we have the freedom to openly discuss issues, and we have the right to be wrong in our opinions without punishment. We shudder to think at what it would mean to open discussion if every time someone opened their mouth they would be forced by law to have scientific research in hand to back up their statements. In some cases, it would be nice if people were more thorough in their knowledge, but this is clearly not something we need to be mandating through law. The fact that many states have these laws set up specifically to protect certain industries stinks of some serious corruption because we at ROC can think of no other reason why elected officials would even contemplate legislation like this, if not as payback for campaign contributions. We urge all our readers to contact your local elected officials and let them know you are opposed to food disparagement laws such as the one in Texas that allowed this travesty of justice to take place.