Browse Primary Sources
". . .After millions of dollars in legal fees, the saga has concluded (pending further appeal) with reversal of Food Lion's fraud claim and the tossing out of its punitive damage award against ABC. The appeals court - apparently adopting a phrase from the amicus brief filed by IRE to support the Constitutional rights of investigative reporters - held that Food Lion could not enagage in an "end-run" around the first amendment by seeking to recover defamation-type damages without first proving that the story was intentionally or recklessly untruthful or inaccurate. . ."
IRE Journal 1999-10-01
". . .In December, a North Carolina jury decided that two ''Prime Time Live'' producers went too far in 1992 when they lied on applications and obtained jobs in the back rooms of Food Lion supermarkets. The resulting program hurt Food Lion's bottom line, and ABC News was hit with $5.5 million in punitive damages. The consequences of the decision, which ABC is appealing, will assuredly be felt in future television exposes or the lack of them. . ."
The New York Times 1997-03-09
". . .Other ways - truthful, ethical - exist besides hidden camera footage to nab wrongdoers. Classic investigative reporting relies on public documents, skilled interviewing, exhaustive research and cross-checking. Why should electronic journalists exempt themselves from the rules of fairness? . . ."
The Washington Post 1992-12-22
". . .The judge in the case said something every journalist should remember: The First Amendment is not a license to trespass, to steal, or intrude by electronic means into the precincts of another's home of office. It does not become such a license simply because the person subjected to the intrusion is reasonably suspected of committing a crime. . ."
IRE Journal 1999-03-01
". . .If journalists continue to demonstrate the questionable ethics contained in the Food Lion case above, perphaps 'meat handling' should become a course in journalism schools' curricula. Treating subjects of stories as 'meat' or 'grist' for the journalism mill is unfortunately becoming a too common practice. This, of course, is not to say that all or majority or even a large segment of journalists are behaving badly. But the taint from the few rubs off, and the odor is as foul as anything thr Food Lion reporters tried to uncover. . ." (IRE Journal's editors later apologized to ABC or the segment's producers for this piece. See "Apologies to ABC Producers" (http://dlib.nyu.edu/undercover/apologies-abc-producers-ire-journal-staff-ire-journal).
IRE Journal 1998-11-01
"Media Talk; Journalists Defending the 'How' In Their Work" - Felicity Barringer - The New York Times
"Who? What? When? Where? Why? These are the questions journalists are trained to ask. But the question that continues to haunt journalists who are hauled into court is ''How?'' How did the journalist get the information? How did he or she approach sources? What did the journalist say to the subjects of the story? . . ."
The New York Times 1998-07-13
"Should journalists lie, as they pursue the noble goal of informing the public? Put more charitably, if the word "lying" is too harsh, should journalists masquerade as meat packers in a supermarket to get a story, engage in a bit of clever misrepresentation and bluffing to trick a source, use "lipstick" cameras hidden in wigs and tiny microphones pinned to brassieres to succeed in undercover reporting, produce (in the words of one NPR reporters) "cockamamie cover stories" to protect an exclusive? In other words, in an industry theoretically still devoted to truth-telling, can deception, in whatever guise, be regarded as an acceptable way of getting the news? . . ."
The Washington Post 1997-03-24
"Is deception by a journalist ever justifiable? That was the question raised by ABC's solemn attempt at self-justification last Wednesday night. ''Primetime Live'' and a special 90-minute panel debate moderated by Ted Koppel focused on Food Lion v. ABC, the case in which a North Carolina jury awarded the Food Lion supermarket chain $5.5 million in punitive damages because ''Primetime Live'' producers lied to get jobs at the supermarkets to show bad food handling practices. . ."
The New York Times 1997-02-17
"Critic's Notebook; Repercussions of Getting a Story by Sneaky Means" - Walter Goodman - New York Times
". . .This case puts reporters on notice that they had better stay away from undercover investigations, with or without cameras. Getting past company guards is not easy. If a reporter takes a job with the purpose of exposing practices a company would prefer to keep it to itself, must he now worry about being sued for breach of 'duty of loyalty' to the company he is out to expose? Does that apply, too, to whistle blowers, those real employees who tip off the reporter? Isn't the television program or the newspaper the reporter's true employer? Wouldn't it be a breach of duty of loyatly if he didn't do whatever he could to get the story? . . ."
The New York Times Thursday, January 16, 1997
"Rivera Sees Bad News From ABC Penalty Pioneering Reporter, TV Execs Call Food Lion Case Rotten for Journalism" - Richard Huff - Daily News
". . .In 1972, to produce his landmark investigative reports, which aired on WABC/Ch. 7, Rivera and his crew slipped into the Staten Island hospital using a stolen key. The end result, of course, was a dramatic story on the horrible living conditions of Willowbrook's inhabitants. This week, ABC News was hit with the multi-million-dollar fine for punitive damages for using tactics not dissimilar to Rivera's though no break-in was involved. . ."
New York Daily News 1997-01-24
"Food Lion Inc. said yesterday that it would slow its pace of expansion in the first half of 1993 as it evaluated the earnings impact of an unfavorable report on ABC television."
The New York Times 1992-12-25
". . . How exactly do we assess such a thing [undercover stings]? It’s not scientific. But Poynter’s Bob Steele has ventured in the past to provide a checklist of rather strict guidelines that must all be adhered to if deception is to be justified in journalism. These include: the information obtained being in the public interest; all alternative methods of obtaining the information being exhausted; the story being told fully; any harm prevented outweighing the harm caused by the deception; and all ethical and legal issues being closely considered. With those in mind, and the particulars of each case on hand, here’s our trip down an ethically murky memory lane. . . . "
Columbia Journalism Review 2011-03-10
"What Is Really Rotten in the Food Lion Case: Chilling the Media's Unethical Newsgathering Techniques" - Lori Keeton - Florida Law Review
". . .This case brings up the almost impossible balance that must be achieved between the press' rights, the public's need to know, and a business' right to privacy. Should reporters be allowed to lie about who they are and what they are doing to get a good story? How far is too far? Where should the line be drawn between acceptable and unacceptable newsgathering practices. . .?"
Florida Law Review 1997-01-01
"New Whines in Old Bottles: Taking Newsgathering Torts Off the Food Lion Shelf" - John P. Borger - Tort & Insurance Law Journal
"Undercover reporting and aggressive elbowing for position to be where the news is happening have been accepted components of journalism for decades. They have produced memorable news accounts and sometimes prompted legislation to remedy abusive activities by the subjects of the news reports. Upton Sinclair and Nellie Bly have become icons in the history of undercover or anonymous newsgathering."
Tort & Insurance Law Journal 1998-10-01
". . .When a Greensboro, North Carolina, jury found that ABC News' 'PrimeTime Live' had broken the law in its hidden-camera investigation of the Food Lion supermarket chain, journalists, media lawyers and defenders of the First Amendment denounced the verdict. There were dire predictions about the 'chilling effect' of the jury's decision and its subsequent $5.5 million award of punitive damages. . ."
American Journalism Review 1997-03-01
IX-"Hidden Cameras: Is the Truth Worth the Lie?" - Stuart Watson - Radio Television Digital News Association
". . .We focus so intently as journalists on the wrongs we're exposing and the greater truth we're telling that we take little time to contemplate the lies we're employing. We demand that cops follow the law, that public employees obey the rules and even that politicians behave ethically. But for some reason we balk when it comes to setting our own standards. . ."
Radio Television Digital News Association 1998-01-01
". . .While preparing her article, Davidson did not attempt to contact either ABC or the producers, and Journal editor Steve Weinberg did not ensure that Davidson did so in the editing nor did he. . ."
IRE Journal 1999-07-01
". . .It was not about the merits of ABC's 1992 PrimeTime Live report, which chronicled what appeared to be a range of stomach-turning food-handling practices in deli and meat departments of the grocery chain, based in Salisbury, North Carolina. Food Lion v. ABC was not a libel case. Although the 1,100-store chain has maintained that the report was false, it did not sue over the question of truth. . ."
Columbia Journalism Review 1997-03-01
The Washington Post 1992-11-30
"Undercover Reporters, Tort Law, and the First Amendment: Food Lion v. ABC and the Future of Surreptitious Newsgathering" - Daniel A. Levin and Alan C. Roline - Kansas Journal of Law and Public Policy
". . .Because most of the alleged Food Lion misconduct occurred only in non-public areas of the stores, Dale and Barnett decided it would be necessary to pose as Food Lion employees to document whether the allegations were true. They planned to hide small video cameras and audio equipment on their persons, and use these devices to record the actions and statements of other Food Lion employees. Because Food Lion would not knowingly hire ABC reporters whose purpose was to investigate Food Lion’s practices, Dale and Barnett, with the UFCW’s help, created false identities and backgrounds, complete with supporting documentation. ABC’s upper management and legal department reviewed and approved all of the above activities. . ."
Kansas Journal of Law and Public Policy 2002-01-01
" . . . Some say journalism will be better off without undercover journalism. There are better ways to get a story, they say. Sure. But not all stories."Undercover reporting was never meant to replace other, less dramatic forms of investigative journalism. But it tells some stories better than any other form. . . . "
Chicago Sun TimesBaltimore Sun 1997-02-14
". . .The profession has turned against false pretenses. The reasons vary. There’s an unease about deception: If your job is to tell the truth you shouldn’t be lying. That seems high-minded, but it’s a cheap way around deciding whether the truth you’re after might justify the dissembling required to get it. . ."
Miami Herald 2005-05-17
Purporting to argue about harm, Mr. Starobin really sermonizes about taste. But Food Lion's reckless food-handling jeopardized lives. The jury's rash judgment in favor of Food Lion provides yet another shield from exposure to corporations that jeopardize public safety behind closed doors. That is worse than tacky.
The New York Times 1997-01-31
ABC News 1992-11-05
"Journalists are then left holding a moral compass, charged with finding ways through the ethical thicket of the First Amendment's liberties...."
American Journalism Review (AJR)American Journalism Review 1977-05-01