June 30, 2000:
Judge Steinberg Ready To
Get Case Back On Track
June 26, 2000:
Judge Says 'No' to
Hearing Wilson/Akre v Fox
June 21, 2000:
Judge To Hear Fox/BGH Case While Foxes Dishes More Distortion To
June 16, 2000:
Date Pushed Back Again; New Judge To Be Selected
June 8, 2000:
Manager Who Fired Akre and Wilson In Tampa Gets Big Promotion
David Boylan Flies Into The Sunset to Manage KTTV, Los Angeles
June 6, 2000:
Will Start Sooner Than Expected
It will proceed in the heat of the summer, probably in July
May 25, 2000:
Will Not Start June 12 as Scheduled
May 18, 2000:
Stalls on Testimony of Its president Mitchell Stern
Pre-trial hearing is otherwise uneventful
Testifies About Broadcasters' Public Interest Requirement
Presidential candidate gives testimony at pre-trial depo
May 5, 2000:
Court-ordered Mediation Is Brief and
Trial set to begin June 12
Fox Challenges rBGH
Experts At Depositions
Fox lawyers laying ground-
work to tell jurors experts are cancer scaremongers?
Testifies on Behalf of Akre & Wilson
Fox lawyers lodge objections
Fox Lawyers Insist On Secrecy At Deposition
French TV Ejected
FDA Wants Comments on G-M Foods
Public Meetings Start in November
Judge Rules: Trial Will Proceed:
Defense loses third effort to have case dismissed
Gene-modified foods might get labels:
Industry weighs voluntary steps, U.S. studies options as well
Trial Still Set to Start Soon:
Busy Docket Delays foxBGHsuit
Will the fight over gene-altered food products leapfrog across the Atlantic?
UN Health Group Shuns BGH
New York Times:
Farmers Right To Sue Grows - Food Warning Muzzle Likely
Corporate Crime Reporter:
Monsanto Officials Join Leading Consumer, Environmental Groups
Fox Deceives Viewers in Primetime,
Net Admits Staging after INSIDE EDITION Report
Democracy Group Award to
Fired Reporters Cited for "Courage in Journalism"
New Trial Date is October
Fox Piles On Big-Name Lawyers
Clinton Lawyer Joins Fox
David Kendall Involvement Confirmed in Letter to Monsanto
Fox Pleads for Another Delay
Later Trial Date to be Set April 29th
Judge Says BGH Case Will
Go To Trial
Opening Gavel Falls May 10th
PENTHOUSE Exposes BGH,
First-rate story of BGH situation and lawsuit against Fox TV
(rated G -- no nudity, just the story)
Summary of BGH Developments
How Fox Wanted to Slant News
of Canadian Concerns
Canadian BGH Concerns Were Big Issue In Firing of Fox Reporters
Canada Says NO to BGH!
Read the CBC Story or
Health Canada Rejects Bovine Growth Hormone in Canada
Government News Release
Akre & Wilson Win Courage
For Work On Story Which Cost Them Their Jobs
ABC NEWS Catches Up on BGH
Read the ABC Story or
FOX Legal (8/28) Answers
to Reporters' Complaint Now Available
and Fox: Partners in Censorship
PR Watch - Showcase Article
Canadians Probe Coverup Claim
Read CBC Story or
Reporters Get Top SPJ Ethics
BGH Issue Explodes in Canada:
Read CBC Story or
SECRET Canadian Study Leaked...
...BGH safety questions unanswered?
Akre-Wilson Depos Start
SP Times covers NutraSweet flap
Our Story: Fox Still Protecting
Fox Pulls Plug on NutraSweet
Reporters Respond To Defense
story FOX-TV refused to air...
Judge refuses to dismiss
all but one count of reporters' suit
Digger Still Plays Dirty
Depositions Continue, Trial Date
Akre/Wilson Preparing FCC Complaint
Judge rejects Defense motion
for Protective Order
Grazing A Stink
- - -Don't Have a Cow
NEW YORK TIMES:
(Silenced) Reporters... Post Web Site
Wilson/Akre demand on-air correction
FOX-TV asks court:
and Delay depositions
OLD ISSUE COULD
DERAIL THE ENTIRE TRIAL BEFORE IT BEGINS
By STEVE WILSON
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
"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
"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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.