Oprah triumphs over the Texas cattle ranchers

FIVE weeks after it began, the Oprah Winfrey mad cow trial ended in Amarillo yesterday with the jury of 12 coming squarely down on the side of the famed television talk-show host and finding against a group of local cattlemen who had accused her of sending the beef market into a spin two years ago.

After cheers went up from crowds outside the monolithic, downtown court building, which in its lobby boasts a colourful and proud fresco of horse- riding cowboys, a beaming Ms Winfrey emerged to declare: "Free speech not only lives - it rocks!"

The wildly popular Ms Winfrey, 44, was forced to move her entire talk- show operation from Chicago to the Texas panhandle city for the duration of the trial, which generated headlines across the country from the moment it started. Normally soporific and dusty Amarillo, meanwhile, basked in the excitement of famous guests coming into its midst daily for recordings of the Oprah show.

At issue in court was an episode of her programme in April 1996 devoted to mad cow disease in Britain. A guest, Howard Lyman, a rancher-turned- vegetarian, said that while there had been no documented cases of the syndrome in the United States herd, it was bound to strike on this side of the water if it had not already.

Angry Texas ranchers accused Ms Winfrey, her production company and Mr Lyman of defaming beef and falling foul of new and highly controversial "veggie libel" laws. On the books in 14 states in the US, the laws seek to protect foodstuffs from slander or defamation.

Claiming that the offending programme had sent beef prices to a 10-year low, the ranchers were seeking damages from the defendants of almost $11m.

In the course of the show, Ms Winfrey asked Mr Lyman if he believed that an outbreak of "mad cow", or BSE, in the US would make Aids look like the common cold. He concurred that it would, to which Ms Winfrey responded that Mr Lyman had just "stopped me from eating another burger".

But after six hours of deliberation, the Amarillo jury sided with Ms Winfrey's argument that she was merely exercising her rights to free speech. One jury member, Pat Gowdy, said: "We felt that a lot of rights have eroded in this country. Our freedom of speech may be the only one we have left."

The forewoman of the jury, Christy Sams, hinted that finding against the cattlemen may not have been so easy. "We didn't necessarily like what we had to do, but we had to decide for the First Amendment," she said in reference to the US Constitution.

Conceding that the trial had been "very, very difficult" for her personally, Ms Winfrey, none the less, remained defiant in defending her record. During the trial she had the support of friends who came to sit in the court's public gallery, including the black American poet, Maya Angelou.

"I will continue to use my voice," Ms Winfrey declared. "I believed from the beginning this was an attempt to muzzle that voice in this country and I refuse to be muzzled. I will not change the way I operate."

The National Cattlemen's Beef Association, meanwhile, issued a statement saying it was "disappointed" with the verdict.

"In today's world of instant and widespread communications, the impact of misinformation can be devastating on the market for perishable agricultural products," the group said.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk