Along the Trail

02-27-98 ยท Dan Green, Editor

The cattlemen suing Oprah Winfrey probably suffered a fatal blow to their case in U.S. District Court in Amarillo, as Judge Mary Lou Robinson ruled that they jury would not decide the case under the Texas perishable food law, but would consider the case as a business disparagement suit.

This is a much tougher case for the plaintiffs to prove, so its probably just a matter of time until Oprah is free to leave the expensive Bed and Breakfast mansion she has been renting for the last five weeks in Amarillo and resume producing her show in Chicago.

The word is that her production company deposited $100,000 in an Amarillo bank to cover the living expenses of Oprah and her entourage, and as long as the trial has dragged on, they've probably had to replenish it.

Its got to have been a real grind for poor ol' Oprah, being in court each day and hosting her show each night at the Little Theatre in Amarillo.

They've had to ration the tickets for the viewing audience, so Oprah remains popular in Amarillo.

Both the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) and the Texas Cattle Feeders Association (TCFA) and their leaders discouraged the filing of the suit in the first place, and may well be proven right, as it looks like the suit will lose.

Even worse, as we pointed out in this space last week, once the judge's gag order is lifted when the trial is over, what Howard Lyman and Oprah had to say about beef on the show leading to the suit will look kind compared to what guests she will have, and how she will handle them, once she leaves Amarillo.

I've hugely enjoyed watching Oprah and her minions squirm in court, as the plaintiff's attorneys have proven that bias and sloppy editing did indeed lead to an unbalanced show.

Tragically, this isn't enough to win the suit though, and the general public won't enjoy the "style points" like we in the beef industry have.

What has been a gas has been watching NCBA and TCFA wriggle out of commenting on, and distancing themselves from, the suit.

They are in a tight corner, as Paul Engler and the plaintiffs are among their largest and most influential dues payers. Even worse, a broad cross section of cattlemen are on Engler's side in this thing.

So, even though the judge's gag order covered only Oprah and the plaintiffs, NCBA and TCFA have chosen to avoid saying anything by observing the gag order. It clearly doesn't cover them, but by saying that some of their staff and members have been under subpoena as witnesses for the trial, it solves their problem.

Actually, the NCBA and TCFA position may well be vindicated if the publicity turns ugly after the trial.

Cattlemen then may see the wisdom in NCBA's normal behind-the-scenes, pallid response to attacks on beef.

I was tempted to ignore public television's two night special on Ronald Reagan, figuring it would be one more taxpayer-funded hatchet job on my favorite former President.

(Isn't interesting how slim the publicity has been on the renaming of Washington National Airport after Reagan?)

However, in this morn-ing's review of the show, I see wherethe producer, Austin Hoyt, actually likes, and even admired, the former President, so maybe my blood won't boil if I watch it.

I've called my wife to get my son, the only family member technically proficient enough to program our VCR, to tape the show.

Patricia Brennan, who wrote the review for the Washington Post, obviously dislikes Reagan, as her review is all full of little digs that presumably aren't in the show, but its good enough for me that she says Hoyt was sympathetic to Reagan.

Warm temperatures and an open winter characterize the areas we talked to this week:

Tommy Coleman

Madison County Commission Co.

Madisonville, Texas

Our winter and spring are shaping up good. There is lots of grazing. We've really had too much rain. Everything is wet. Its been a warm winter, with most days in the 50s and 60s. It rains almost everyday. There was a little flooding along the Trinity River, but no serious damage. This is the slackest time of year through the market, with the calves and yearlings all sold. We're mostly seeing cull cows and bulls, and a few stock cows, which see good demand. Prices in all classes have been strong.

Joe Guth

Citizens National Bank and Trust Co.

Torrington, Wyoming

Its been a mild winter. We haven't fed much hay. There will be a lot of carryover hay. It is selling for $75-$90 a ton for average quality. There are still some calves and yearlings around, held over because we had the feed. The grass cattle runs will start shortly, as it should be a good grazing year. Farmers are spreading manure, but farming really hasn't started yet. There is higher heifer retention around here than usual. Bred heifers look like a good buy, as the demand hasn't been as high as people expected. It looks like calf prices will hold up this year.

Allen Walker

Livestock Exchange

Brush, Colorado

We've had good moisture and an easy winter. The big cattle are cleaned up. Even the board at the Merc has been off, demand for feeder cattle has been good. Grass cattle prices have stayed strong. There's plenty of hay due to the open winter. Grinding alfalfa is about $65 a ton and $105 ground and delivered. Demand for it is low because there is lots of dry land feed available. We've sold lots of stock cows to good demand, but whether that's expanding herds or not, we don't know yet.

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