Food Lion Wins $5.5 Million From ABC

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GREENSBORO, North Carolina.: A federal jury awarded the North Carolina-based Food Lion supermarket chain $5.5 million in punitive damages in its suit against ABC's news magazine show, PrimeTime Live. ABC attorneys say they will appeal the ruling, which was significantly less than the $52.5 million to $1.9 billion Food Lion wanted as compensation for profits lost as a result of the ABC story. TIME's Lisa Towle reports from Raleigh that the chain's attorneys were satisfied with the award and gratified by reports that 11 of the jurors favored a larger sum. Food Lion successfully argued that two of the show's producers presented fraudulent references to get jobs with the chain, then staged some of the unsanitary conditions outlined in the expose, which aired on November 5, 1992. ABC will pay $1.5 million and parent company Capital Cities/ABC will have to throw in $4 million. Jurors did not punish producers Lynne Dale and Susan Barnett, because they viewed them as simply following orders. Dale and Barnett, who have since been promoted, wore microphones and hidden cameras after getting hired at different stores, and were alleged to have rifled through employee records. While investigative journalists and First Amendment activists said the judgment would chill news investigations, jury foreman Gregory Mack boiled down the verdict: "The media has a right to bring the news, but they have to watch what they do . . . There are boundaries, and you have to make sure you don't go outside the boundaries." Significantly, Mack did credit ABC with uncovering a legitimate story. But, Towle notes, "the jury was sending a warning here to other news organizations that this kind of action, in pursuit of sensational videotape to raise ratings, is not appreciated."