5:40pm PT by Eriq Gardner
Disney Discloses $177 Million Settlement in Aftermath of ABC's "Pink Slime" Trial
In Disney's latest quarterly earnings report, the Mickey Mouse company reports a $177 million expense related to the settlement of litigation. Was it the price for getting Disney's ABC News unit out of a defamation lawsuit?
On June 28, the case between Beef Products Inc. and ABC abruptly ended after three weeks of what was expected to be an eight-week trial. BPI had been seeking damages worth several billions over a series of World News reports in March 2012 about its product, officially called "lean finely textured beef" (LFTB) and dubbed “pink slime” by critics. At trial, the plaintiff attacked media bias and attempted to prove that ABC damaged its reputation by stating or implying that its product isn't meat or beef, isn't nutritious, isn't safe, was only approved by government regulators through misconduct and referring to LFTB as "pink slime."
Jurors heard from Diane Sawyer, a beef expert, a marketing consultant and others before the parties surprised everyone by announcing that after about five years of litigation, before ABC had a chance to present its own witnesses and experts, a settlement had been reached.
The terms weren't disclosed, but since Disney has been for years reporting about the existence of this lawsuit — and no other lawsuit — in 10-Q reports to shareholders filed with the Securities & Exchange Commission, its first quarterly report since the settlement announcement had some intrigue.
Disney's third-quarter report doesn't specifically attribute the $177 million settlement expense to the "pink slime" case and also notes this is a net sum after the factoring of "committed insurance recoveries." If $177 million is what ABC paid to end the case, though, it would represent one of the biggest hand-overs of cash in a defamation case in media history. Possibly the biggest. Of course, it's not nearly the $5.7 billion demanded by BPI. (Insurance money could have gone to the beef giant, too).
Disney hasn't responded to an inquiry.
Update: Other reporters followed up on our initial story. The Wall Street Journal included a quote from a BPI spokesperson that all but confirmed the $177 million was related to its settlement: "As Disney disclosed, $177 million is not the total settlement amount. Based on Disney's disclosure, it appears that Disney is funding $177 million of the settlement and its insurers are paying the rest."