NEXT DEVELOPMENT:
July 12 in Tampa
Judge To Hear Argument on Final, Important Pre-trial Issues

TRIAL  START  DATE  JULY  17
Report Archive:

Ž June 30, 2000:
Judge Steinberg Ready To
Get Case Back On Track

Ž June 26, 2000:
Another Judge Says 'No' to
Hearing Wilson/Akre v Fox
Case

Ž June 21, 2000:
Still No Judge To Hear Fox/BGH Case While Foxes Dishes More Distortion To
WTVT Tampa Viewers

Ž June 16, 2000:
Trial Date Pushed Back Again; New Judge To Be Selected

Ž June 8, 2000:
Fox  Manager Who Fired Akre and Wilson In Tampa Gets Big Promotion 
David Boylan Flies Into The Sunset to Manage KTTV, Los Angeles

Ž June 6, 2000:
Fox Trial Will Start Sooner Than Expected
It will proceed in the heat of the summer, probably in July

Ž May 25, 2000:
Fox Trial Will Not Start June 12 as Scheduled

Ž May 18, 2000:
Fox Still Stalls on Testimony of Its president Mitchell Stern
Pre-trial hearing is otherwise uneventful

Ž May 8, 2000:
Ralph Nader Testifies About Broadcasters' Public Interest Requirement
Presidential candidate gives testimony at pre-trial depo 

Ž May 5, 2000:
Court-ordered Mediation Is Brief and Unsuccessful
Trial set to begin June 12

Ž April 28,2000:
Fox Challenges rBGH Experts At Depositions

Fox lawyers laying ground-
work to tell jurors experts are cancer scaremongers?

Ž April 26,2000:
Walter Cronkite Testifies on Behalf of Akre & Wilson
Fox lawyers lodge objections

Ž October 19:
Fox Lawyers Insist On Secrecy At Deposition
French TV Ejected

Ž October 18:
FDA Wants Comments on G-M Foods
Public Meetings Start in November

Ž October 13:
Judge Rules: Trial Will Proceed: Defense loses third effort to have case dismissed

Ž September 24:
MSNBC: Gene-modified foods might get labels:
Industry weighs voluntary steps, U.S. studies options as well

Ž September 20:
Trial Still Set to Start Soon: Busy Docket Delays foxBGHsuit

Ž August 4:
MSNBC: Mutable Feast:
Will the fight over gene-altered food products leapfrog across the Atlantic?

Ž June 30:
Consumers International:
UN Health Group Shuns BGH

Ž June 1:
New York Times:
Farmers’ Right To Sue Grows - Food Warning Muzzle Likely

Ž May 10:
Corporate Crime Reporter:
Monsanto Officials Join Leading Consumer, Environmental Groups

Ž May 3:
Fox Deceives Viewers in Primetime, Too
Net Admits Staging after INSIDE EDITION Report

Ž April 30:
Democracy Group Award to Akre/Wilson
Fired Reporters Cited for "Courage in Journalism"

Ž April 29:
New Trial Date is October 11
Fox Piles On Big-Name Lawyers

Ž April 17:
Clinton Lawyer Joins Fox Legal Team
David Kendall Involvement Confirmed in Letter to Monsanto

Ž April 16:
Fox Pleads for Another Delay
Later Trial Date to be Set April 29th

Ž April 1:
Judge Says BGH Case Will Go To Trial
Opening Gavel Falls May 10th

Ž February 16:
PENTHOUSE Exposes BGH, Fox Coverup:
First-rate story of BGH situation and lawsuit against Fox TV (rated G -- no nudity, just the story)

Ž January 25:
ENS Summary of BGH Developments

Ž January 14:
How Fox Wanted to Slant News of Canadian Concerns
Canadian BGH Concerns Were Big Issue In Firing of Fox Reporters

Ž January 14:
Canada Says NO to BGH!
Read the CBC Story or View-Listen to report with RealPlayer

Ž January 14:
Health Canada Rejects Bovine Growth Hormone in Canada
Government News Release

Ž December 16:
Akre & Wilson Win Courage Award
For Work On Story Which Cost Them Their Jobs

Ž December 15:
ABC NEWS Catches Up on BGH
Read the ABC Story or View-Listen to report with RealPlayer

Ž November 7:
FOX Legal (8/28) Answers
to Reporters' Complaint Now Available

Ž November 1:
Monsanto and Fox: Partners in Censorship
PR Watch - Showcase Article

Ž October 30:
Canadians Probe Coverup Claim
Read CBC Story or View-Listen to report with RealPlayer

Ž October 24:
Reporters Get Top SPJ Ethics Award

Ž October 22:
BGH Issue Explodes in Canada:
Read CBC Story or View-Listen to report with RealPlayer

Ž October 7:
SECRET Canadian Study Leaked...
...BGH safety questions unanswered?

Ž Sept 13:
Akre-Wilson Depos Start

Ž Sept 10:
TIMES/St. Petersburg
SP Times covers NutraSweet flap

Ž Sept 10:
Our Story: Fox Still Protecting Monsanto?

Ž Sept 8:
Fox Pulls Plug on NutraSweet Foe

Ž Sept 1:
Reporters Respond To Defense

Ž READ story FOX-TV refused to air...
or View-Listen to report with RealPlayer

Ž July 14:
Judge refuses to dismiss
all but one count of reporters' suit

Ž July 5:
OBSERVER/London
Digger Still Plays Dirty

Ž July 1:
Depositions Continue, Trial Date Set

Ž June 7:
TIMES/St. Petersburg
Akre/Wilson Preparing FCC Complaint

Ž May 26:
Judge rejects Defense motion
for Protective Order

Ž May 25:
WEEKLY PLANET/Tampa:
Grazing A Stink - - -Don't Have a Cow

Ž May 23:
NEW YORK TIMES:
(Silenced) Reporters... Post Web Site

Ž May 21:
Wilson/Akre demand on-air correction

Ž April 29:
FOX-TV asks court:
Dismiss case and Delay depositions

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 OLD ISSUE COULD DERAIL THE  ENTIRE TRIAL BEFORE IT BEGINS
                                                
By STEVE WILSON

How Many Bites?
        TAMPA (July 8, 2000)--How many chances does a defendant get to make the very same argument about why the case against him should be thrown out of court without a trial?
       
In Florida state court, defense lawyers
can keep taking a bite at the same apple every time they can get the trial court judge to listen.  And in Tampa where the judges are routinely rotated every year and a pending case can have as many as five or more judges assigned before it finally goes to trial, the same argument can be made time after time, no matter how many judges previously heard and rejected the same argument.  
        It is that little quirk in the system that had lawyers defending Fox Television virtually salivating late Friday after trial court Judge Ralph Steinberg voiced concern whether the Fox/BGH lawsuit technically meets the requirements of the state's Whistleblower Act.
        If not, Steinberg said that as a matter of law he could simply dismiss the whistleblower claim which is the heart of the case filed by fired journalists Steve Wilson and Jane Akre in 1998 when they charged Fox ordered them to deliberately distort news reports about bovine growth  hormone. 
        The judge also indicated that another element of the suit might also be a matter of law which he could decide on his own, essentially eliminating the need for any trial at all.
        The potential land mine appeared unexpectedly Friday after Judge Steinberg had agreed the day before to give both sides a few more days to prepare to pick a jury and start the trial.
        Thursday, he set the new trial date: Monday, July 17.  
        The issue which has the potential to derail the case arose during the second day of hearings in which Steinberg listened to arguments and decided more than a dozen disputes about which witnesses and what evidence would be allowed at trial.
        Fox had filed a pile of motions the plaintiffs said were aimed at gutting their case.  
      The defendant lost two of the longest and most hotly contested debates when the judge refused to bar the testimony of Walter Cronkite and Ralph Nader.  Both witnesses have agreed to testify on behalf of the plaintiffs, Cronkite by deposition and Nader in person and on the witness stand at the trial.   
 Walter Cronkite
Journalist is "in"
Same Old Issue         
        Steinberg set up the latest hurdle for the plaintiffs to clear before trial when he indicated that he needs to be convinced that Fox's alleged misconduct at the heart of the lawsuit actually constitutes a violation of a law, rule or regulation.  
        Florida's whistleblower law protects employees only when they can show they were wrongfully fired after they "objected to, or refused to participate in, any activity, policy, or practice of the employer which is in violation of a law, rule, or regulation."
        Fox defense lawyers have long argued that news managers and their company lawyers never directed or pressured Wilson and Akre to broadcast deliberately distorted  news reports...but even if they did give such orders, Fox would not technically be in violation of any law, rule or regulation.
        The plaintiffs have cited cases to support their argument that deliberate distortion of the news is a violation the Communications Act of 1934 which. among other provisions, makes it illegal to broadcast false signals. 
        Two other judges have heard and rejected that very same argument in the Wilson/Akre case.  It was a cornerstone of the defendant's two Motions for Summary Judgment which were denied by the two judges who previously presided over the case in 1998 and 1999.
        "This is ground that we've already covered," said co-plaintiff Jane Akre.  "My lawyers and my co-plaintiff have spent countless hours researching, briefing and arguing this whole issue at least twice before. 
        "Judge Steinberg has not had an opportunity to read the mountain of evidence that the Federal Communications Commission prohibits broadcasters from deliberately distorting the news.  To argue that such misconduct is merely a violation of some FCC policy and not any law, rule or regulation is nothing more than a desperate stretch aimed at getting their client off the hook," Akre said.
        "We've shown clear and convincing evidence to two other judges who have rejected this defense tactic for the bogus word game that is," said co-plaintiff Wilson.
        "Judge Steinberg has shown himself to be nothing but fair and when he sees the same evidence his fellow jurists before him have seen, we're confident he'll come to the same conclusion and we can finally pick a jury and get underway," Wilson added.  
        A hearing has been set for Wednesday morning (July 12, 2000) for both sides to present arguments.

More on Cronkite, Nader
        In the battle to block key witnesses for the plaintiffs, Fox lawyer William McDaniels argued long and hard that Walter Cronkite was not technically qualified to appear as an expert witness.
         McDaniels argued that Cronkite was called as a expert witness in the area of media law but the former CBS anchorman is not a lawyer nor does he have any real experience in the law.  Fox presented an 18-page argument aimed at convincing the judge to bar Cronkite's testimony.
        Co-plaintiff Steve Wilson argued that Cronkite was not called for his expertise in the law, he was called as an expert on the pre-broadcast review legal process that all stories go through before they get on the air.
        "Lawyers are certainly  part of that process," Wilson argued on his own behalf, "but so are journalists. In fact, in many good newsrooms, it is journalists and not lawyers who are in charge of the review process and journalists not lawyers make the final decisions about what gets on the air.  
        "The jury needs to hear and understand that...and Walter Cronkite is certainly fully qualified to explain it.  I've never seen a 'news organization' go to such trouble to try and distance itself from Walter Cronkite, " Wilson told the judge..
        Early in the argument, a perplexed Judge Steinberg asked the Fox legal team, "Does Walter Cronkite actually say anything that hurts your case?  
        During his deposition, Cronkite was asked who should break an impasse if a lawyer and journalist disagree about what should be reported.  He explained that at good news organizations like The New York Times and CBS News, journalists, not lawyers, have the final say.  The plaintiffs argue that at Fox, it is lawyers who make the final decisions based on the interest of the media company and not the public interest as broadcasters are required to serve. 
        With regard to Nader, McDaniels argued that the presidential candidate's views on the FCC were irrelevant to the case.  
        He said Nader's criticism of the agency as a virtual "kangaroo court" that puts the interests of big media empires ahead of the public interest would not help the jury in understanding the case.
        The plaintiffs successfully argued that Nader was not being called to give critical opinions or campaign speeches about the FCC but to explain the public interest standard that all broadcasters are required by law to follow. 
        As with all witnesses and their testimony, the judge left the door open to individual objections as to relevancy if the defense lawyers want to try and argue that at trial when testimony from Nader and Cronkite is offered.  

The Elusive Mr. Stern
        Fox also argued a motion to quash the trial subpoena the plaintiffs have issued to Fox Television Stations president Mitchell Stern.
        Through Fox lawyers in Los Angeles, Stern has fought long and hard to stay out of the case, claiming initially that the executive knew absolutely nothing about the dispute.  When two Fox lawyers later testified about Stern's instructions that they "take no risks" in airing the story, the lawyers argued essentially Stern was a busy man who had no time for a deposition. 
        In response to a motion to compel Stern to appear for deposition, Judge Steinberg ordered several weeks ago that he answer written questions which he subsequently did.
        The present dispute centers over whether the plaintiffs can now subpoena Stern to be present at trial.  Fox argues since he is a California resident, a Florida court subpoena is not valid.  The plaintiffs say not only is Stern the president of the corporation that holds WTVT in Tampa,  case law holds that he can be compelled to appear no matter where he chooses to live. 
        Judge Steinberg ruled the issue is a matter of law which he will review before making a decision.  Both sides indicated that they will file briefs on the issue early next week.

Other Pre-trial Rulings
         In other rulings, the judge also denied a Fox motion to keep the jury from hearing any testimony by the plaintiffs that their dismissal by Fox has damaged their professional reputations and ability to continue to be employed as journalists.
        Attorney Johnson told the judge there has been a pattern of conduct by Fox and its representatives to damage Wilson's and Akre's reputations, even after the two were fired.  Wilson called it "a smear campaign" and named Fox executives in Tampa, Washington, and Kansas City who have admitted or been reported to have made false statements about the fired reporters.  
       Johnson cited the recent Tampa Bay Weekly Planet article in which even a Fox lawyer characterized the journalists' lawsuit as "nothing other than an editing dispute with an asshole who refused to be edited."  
        In another important ruling, the judge issues a split decision with regard to the Fox motion to restrict the plaintiffs from telling the jury about offers of cash for silence.
        Steinberg ruled that the first offer made in May was admissible because no lawsuit had been filed or threatened at that time.  He rejected the defendant's notion that the proposed deal was a settlement offer to stop or settle a lawsuit that didn't exist.
        The second Fox offer, however, was another story.
        Since Fox cited a letter from the reporters to Fox indicating that the journalists had asked their lawyer to draft a lawsuit before the second offer was made, the proposal to give the journalists no-show jobs in exchange for silence could not be presented to the jury, Steinberg ruled.
        The concern is that if plaintiffs are ultimately able to tell juries about offers made to try and settle claims and avert lawsuits, it would discourage anyone from ever trying to settle a matter before it clogs the court system.
        The judge did grant a Fox motion to block the jury from hearing anything about the Ethics Award the plaintiffs received from the Society of Professional Journalists.  
        After they were fired and filed their lawsuit, SPJ awarded Wilson and Akre for their conduct in standing up to Fox.  The judge ruled that such an award could prejudice the jury into believing that they should reach the same conclusions about the dispute as SPJ may have done.
        The ruling blocks testimony from local SPJ chapter people who were going to testify about their efforts to pressure the journalism society to rescind the award.
       Steinberg was clear in his ruling that journalism awards such as Wilson's four Emmys not associated with the dispute at the heart of the lawsuit, certainly are admissible as evidence the plaintiffs are "award-winning professionals."
        On another issue, the judge ruled that the plaintiffs cannot bring up evidence of similar conduct by Fox at other stations unless the defendant opens the door by claiming it never puts its own interests ahead of the public interest.
        During discovery, Wilson and Akre uncovered other cases in which Fox responded to pressure from Monsanto and another big multi0-national company seeking to influence the station's coverage of controversial matters.  
        In response to a suggestion by the judge, a number of Fox motions were withdrawn were withdrawn after the plaintiffs agreed they had no intention of doing what the defendant feared.
        One such motion was aimed at keeping the plaintiffs from referring to the pre-trial testimony of any witness who has testified that Fox's assistant news director Sue Kawalerski was drunk and acted inappropriately when she made improper sexual advances to employees and their spouses at WTVT social events. 
        Akre's lawyer Johnson made it clear the plaintiffs have no intention of trying to convince the jury that Ms. Kawalerski's on-the-job judgment is impaired by her problems with alcohol.  

Stories Posted Recently:

STEINBERG TO GET CASE BACK ON TRACK

STRIKE 2 ON SEARCH FOR JUDGE TO TAKE CASE

FOX AIRS ANOTHER DISTORTED STORY ON rBGH

TRIAL DELAYED; NEW JUDGE TO BE CHOSEN

FOX MGR WHO FIRED JOURNOS GETS PROMOTED TO FOX'S SECOND-BIGGEST STATION

TRIAL TO START SOON, LATE JUNE/EARLY JULY

TRIAL DELAYED AGAIN WILL NOT START 6/12

FOX STALLS ON TESTIMONY OF ITS PRESIDENT

RALPH NADER TESTIFIES RE PUBLIC INTEREST

MEDIATION IS BRIEF AND UNSUCCESSFUL

FOX CHALLENGES PLAINTIFFS' rBGH EXPERTS

CRONKITE TESTIFIES FOR AKRE & WILSON 


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