ABC’s Jim Avila: More Activism Than Journalism

Correspondent named in $1.2 billion lawsuit after attacks on lean beef.

Jim Avila may not be a household name, but he has become one of the most prominent news correspondents on television – averaging 130 reports a year since 1997. But he’s done much more than just report the news, Avila has become an activist.

He made that name for himself and sullied the term “lean beef” early in 2012 with a series of stories repeatedly calling the beef “pink slime.” On Sept. 13, Beef Products Inc. filed a 1.2 billion lawsuit against ABC for the coverage of “pink slime.” Avila is specifically named in this lawsuit for his part in the anti-meat attacks. “Avila knowingly or recklessly made multiple false and disparaging statements regarding BPI and LFTB during ABC broadcasts, in ABC online reports and social media postings,” read the lawsuit. That was just one of four separate anti-meat topics Avila has pursued in 2012 alone.

On Sept. 3, 2012, he did a broadcast on ABC’s “Nightline” and a corresponding blog about the new craze of a “less-meat diet,” partly due to the price increase of meat this past year. Ironically, he didn’t attribute this price increase in meat – more specifically beef – to his own reporting against lean finely textured beef, which analysts say cost the economy more than half a billion dollars. Appropriately, Avila’s blog linked back to all of his own coverage of “pink slime.”

That’s just a hint of his activism. In 2003, when he was still with NBC, he attacked a favorite target of the left – Fox News. He criticized “opinion” journalism as being the reason behind society’s distrust of journalism. At the same time, he regularly appeared on hard-left cable network MSNBC.

Avila, who is Hispanic, has also expressed an odd fondness for Cuba’s Castro regime. He covered the Elian Gonzalez controversy in 2000 with a hostile portrayal of Elian’s mother and wondered, “Why did she [Elian’s mother, a maid] do it? What was she escaping? By all accounts this quiet, serious young woman, who loved to dance the salsa, was living the good life; as good as it gets for a citizen in Cuba.”

He has also received awards from both the National Arab American Journalists Association and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, large ethnic journalist organizations that push activist journalism in regards to race. The NAAJA was founded by one of the first prominent Palestinian activists in America, M.T. Mehndi. There was even a picture of Mehndi with terrorist and PLO founder Yasser Arafat on the NAAJA program for the National Conference of Arab and Muslim News Media in 2002. Both of these awards were oddly absent from his ABC bio.

ABC’s Anti-Meat Crusade

Avila was the main force behind ABC’s March 2012 attack on lean finely textured beef, which he and his colleagues repeatedly labeled “pink slime.” This crusade initially cost upwards of 600 jobs and has since been linked to 2,000 lost jobs. Avila even attacked a mother whose son died from E.Coli when he was 6 — all because she defended Beef Products Inc, which produced the meat. The treatment of the meat Avila attacked actually makes beef safer for consumers to eat. The effects of Avila’s war on meat has continued to the point where a radio station in Iowa, one of the states where BPI was forced to close a plant, dropped ABC as the provider of their local radio stations due to its part with “pink slime.”

Avila took his anti-meat agenda even into social media. His Facebook fan page is not kept up to date with his current stories. However, he has posted links to both “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report,” satirical news shows on Comedy Central, after they did bits on his “pink slime” reports.

Although he is also not extremely active on his twitter account of two years, during his self-made “pink slime” controversy, he made sure to retweet blog posts from liberal food activist and Huffington Post contributor Bettina Elias Siegel on two different occasions, with several other twitter interactions with her as well. Ninety-two of his 626 total tweets were dedicated to this story, or about 15 percent of all the tweets he has posted. He also regularly argued with Janet Riley of the American Meat Institute and BPI co-founder Regina Roth. Avila also went after Roth in person in an event BPI hosted to show that the lean beef was safe, according to the Sioux City Journal.

In a 263-page lawsuit filed on Sept. 13, BPI charged ABC with “defamation, product and food disparagement, tortuous interference with business relationships, and other wrongs.” Avila was specifically singled out in this suit since he was the lead correspondent pushing the story. “Statements made by the ABC Defendants during and after their disinformation campaign further demonstrate that they intended for viewers, readers and consumers to believe they were reporting ‘facts’ and BPI and LFTB. Avila was the lead reporter for ABC’s coverage. Avila repeatedly stated that the Defendants were conveying ‘facts’ about BPI and LFTB that should, and could, be relied on by consumers.”

But the “pink slime” attacks were not the only anti-meat industry attack by Avila. There have been three others in 2012. After “pink slime,” he went on to hype fear over a possible outbreak of Mad Cow Disease (there was none) and later demonized the USDA about its cost-cutting procedures on inspecting chickens.

His most recent attack took place on the Sept. 3 edition of ABC’s “Nightline.” Avila did a Labor Day grill out themed piece on Americans consumption of meat, and even claimed to be an avid meat eater himself. “Today, 30 percent of Americans are eating less meat. Concerns over health, the impact on the environment and higher prices have all led to movements like ‘Meatless Mondays’ and a 12-percent drop in consumption over the last five years.” Part of the rise in beef prices can be directly attributed to Avila’s vendetta against LFTB in March, but he won’t mention that in any of his news broadcasts.

Supporting Castro’s Cuba

There is more to Avila’s activism. He has a shown support toward Cuba and its anti-American dictatorship. In an interview with Don Imus in 1999, Avila defended Cuba’s communist regime as more of a nation-centric government than a dictatorship. "The one thing that most, that I've learned about Cubans in the many times that I have visited here in the last few years, is that it is mostly a nationalistic country, not primarily a communist country."

The next year, during the Elian Gonzalez controversy, Avila absurdly claimed that Gonzalez would “likely” return to the “Cuban good life …” He even questioned the motives of Elian’s mother, seeming absolutely aghast that a maid could possibly desire to leave Cuba where, “in today’s Cuba a maid, where dollar tips are to be had, is a prestigious job.” And in 2009, Avila reminisced about how great Cuban communism was. “While many Cubans complain about economic conditions and oppression, most still take pride in their independence.” It’s hard to imagine that unreliable electricity, deteriorating water conditions, and dilapidated government housing is a Cuban “good life,” but the media is no stranger to glamorizing Cuban communism.

In a blog by Avila in 2008 about ending sanctions against Cuba, he lamented how the embargo supposedly hurt the Cuban people. “And today, it was condemned as an illegal blockade for the 17th year in a row at the United Nations. Cuba's communist government says it has cost the island $90 billion in trade – and hurts the Cuban people, not Castro.” He then went on to dismiss the Cuban American National Foundation, whom he said was a “hard-line exile group, politically influential and vehemently anti-Castro” as having an “isolated view.”

The NAAJA and NAHJ Activists

Avila is both of Arab and Hispanic descent and a member of two ethic-based journalists associations, the National Arab American Journalists Association and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. In his acceptance speech at the NAHJ in 2008, Avila accredited the Watergate scandal and his father’s heritage as his inspiration for pursuing journalism.

He spoke at the National Conference of Arab and Muslim News Media in 2002. There was a list of resolutions. In the program that Arab-American journalists to become activists. It said they “not only report the news, but we also have an obligation to lead public opinion on the process of reporting the news.” The first resolution called for “the end to the occupation and the restoration of the rights of the Palestinian people.” That “occupation” refers to the existence of Israel.

Avila received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the NAAJA at that same conference,. The NAAJA’s founder, Dr. M.T. Mehdi was an Iraqi immigrant and one of the first pro-Palestinian activists in the United States. He openly supported the Palestinian Liberation Operation. On the NAAJA page about their founder, there is a picture of Mehdi with the former leader of the PLO, Yasser Arafat, a known terrorist, in 1976. The Lifetime Achievement Award, as well as several others, was created in honor of Mehdi after his death.

The National Association of Hispanic Journalists, whose members include journalists like Ray Suarez of PBS, who claimed one of Cuba’s “greatest prides” was healthcare, and “unbiasedSoledad O’Brien from CNN, states on its website that they are “to foster a greater understanding of Hispanic media professionals’ special cultural identity, interests, and concerns.” The NAHJ has been a big proponent of stopping the use of the word “illegal” to describe undocumented workers and sensitivity in media treatment of immigrants. In 2008, Avila received the Broadcast Journalist of the Year from the NAHJ. In his acceptance speech, he credited the NAHJ for all strides Hispanic journalists have made.

When All Else Fails, Attack Fox News

To better understand Avila, look at how he treated Fox News. In June 2003, he did a piece for NBC where he lamented about the lack of confidence the public had in newspapers and the media. The culprit, according to Avila, was Fox News Channel and media watchdog groups. His only sound bite and source for this report came from the liberal Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, a George Soros-funded organization. Avila launched his attack over the background of Fox News video. “And some experts say opinion-based journalism, so popular on cable TV, undercuts credibility.” At this time, Avila was a frequent contributor to MSNBC himself.