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.

Voices
Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US
voicesRobert Fisk: Barack Obama is following the jihadists’ script
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
filmReview: Lucy, Luc Besson's complex thriller
News
peoplePamela Anderson rejects ice bucket challenge because of ALS experiments on animals
Arts and Entertainment
tvExecutive says content is not 'without any purpose'
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
News
A cleaner prepares the red carpet for the opening night during the 59th International Cannes Film Festival May 17, 2006 in Cannes, France.
newsPowerful vacuum cleaners to be banned under EU regulations
Sport
sportLeague Managers' Association had described Malky Mackay texts as 'friendly banter'
News
A polar bear’s diet is rich in seal blubber and half of its own body weight is composed of fat
i100
News
peopleCareer spanned 70 years, including work with Holocaust survivors
News
people
Travel
Flocking round: Beyoncé, Madame Tussauds' latest waxwork, looking fierce in the park
travelIn a digital age when we have more access than ever to the stars, why are waxworks still pulling in crowds?
News
London is the most expensive city in Europe for cultural activities such as ballet
arts
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson has rejected criticisms of his language, according to BBC director of television Danny Cohen
tv
Extras
indybest
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Nursery Nurse

£40 per day: Randstad Education Manchester: Nursery Nurse needed in salfordI a...

Nursery Nurse

£25 per day: Randstad Education Manchester: Level 3 Nursery nurse needed in th...

Supply Teaching jobs in Thetford

£21588 - £31566 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Randstad Education ar...

KS1 teachers needed in Peterborough

£110 - £125 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Randstad Education are ur...

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape