Reporting by ABC Was Dishonest

Article excerpt

I vacation in North Carolina and shop there at a Food Lion store - though I did so the first time with grave doubts. I had seen the famous "Prime Time Live" segment about Food Lion's purported unsanitary food handling and accordingly eyed each employee as a would-be Typhoid Mary.

On the other hand, I figured that following the terrible publicity ABC had created, Food Lion's sanitary standards were probably the best in the business. It's the plane-crash reasoning: For a few weeks following a crash, you guess that the airline involved is probably the safest in the sky.

When the jury delivered its verdict against ABC recently, I wasn't surprised (the media are so unpopular). But I sided with ABC, on the theory that this sort of public service is exactly what you hope for from investigative journalism. Because Food Lion declined to file a libel suit, relying instead on fraud and other charges, I assumed that the ABC report was substantially correct. At the time the report aired, Food Lion was the fastest-growing grocery chain in the United States. But it was a nonunion shop. An attempt by the United Food and Commercial Workers Union to unionize Food Lion had failed in the early 1980s. Douglas Dority, executive vice president and international director of organizing for UFCW, explained at a conference in 1990 that "when the unionized share of the grocery dollar declines in any geographic area, our ability to produce at the bargaining table is diminished." Then, speaking specifically about Food Lion and two other nonunion chains, Dority said, "Over the long run, we must either reduce these chains' market share . . . or we must put them out of business. There is no other option." The union's first effort to damage Food Lion's reputation came in 1994. A group calling itself Consumers United With Employees - actually a front group for union interests - put out a press release accusing Food Lion of endangering public health by selling baby formula that had exceeded its "sell-by" dates. Consumers United did not report on other food chains. When asked why, it pleaded lack of resources. …