Ex-BPI Employee Sues Me, Jamie Oliver and ABC News Over LFTB Controversy

by Bettina Elias Siegel on December 12, 2012

Yesterday I learned that Bruce Smith, a former environmental health and safety officer at Beef Products Inc., has filed a pro se lawsuit in Nebraska state court relating to last spring’s controversy over BPI’s lean, finely textured beef product.  I’m one of the named defendants, along with ABC News, Jim Avila, Diane Sawyer and Jamie Oliver.  I have not been served with the suit.

In his complaint, Mr. Smith claims to have suffered the negligent infliction of emotional distress due to the loss of his job at BPI last May.  Mr. Smith has also self-published a book entitled Pink Slime Ate My Job, the sale of which he appears to be promoting in connection with his lawsuit.

For the time being, I’ll have no further comment except to say that I’m confident the First Amendment protects the rights of all Americans, including bloggers like myself, against meritless attempts at censorship like this one.  I will vigorously defend my right, and the rights of all of us, to speak out on matters of public importance and to petition the federal government, as I did through Change.org, to change any policy with which we disagree.

My sincere thanks to all of you who’ve already expressed support and/or extended offers of assistance as I prepare to defend myself against this lawsuit.  I’ll keep you posted regarding further developments as warranted.

Before signing off, a reminder that the stringent comments policy I published last spring remains in effect.  Anyone who feels the need to include personal attacks, profanity or anti-semitic sentiments in their responses to this or any other post will not see their comment appear in this forum.  Moreover, all future comments from any sender violating this policy will go directly to my spam filter and I will not see them for moderation.

[Ed. Update: As of 12/19/12, this blog’s comments policy has been updated to indicate that I will summarily block any “commenters using aliases and multiple email addresses to appear to be more than one reader. I will use my reasonable judgment, based on IP addresses and other information, to determine if a commenter is engaging in this practice.”]

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{ 49 comments… read them below or add one }

Karen December 12, 2012 at 12:10 pm

It’s fascinating to me that our culture has evolved to the point where people use lawsuits to publicize their work product. Mr. Smith is not the first to do this, nor will he be the last. I’m sorry your name was listed in the suit, but hey, you’re in good company.

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Charles Kuffner December 12, 2012 at 2:02 pm

Cripes. Sorry to hear about this. Please let me know if there’s anything I can do to help. Wishing you all the best for a swift and satisfactory resolution.

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Bettina Elias Siegel December 12, 2012 at 3:33 pm

Thank you!

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Jeff P. December 12, 2012 at 2:03 pm

This is truly wonderful news!

I can only hope Mr. Smith is but the first in a very long line of about 700 families you recklessly put out of work to make you accountable for your actions.

Sadly I am quite certain you will squirm off the hook this time with the help of ABC News corporate attorneys. Hopefully the other damaged BPI employees will bring a series of class action suits against you to finally bring you to justice for maliciously shouting fire in a crowded theater.

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Andrew Norris December 12, 2012 at 6:49 pm

Industries like Macdonals employ people who would be better off otherwise serving more healthy products. People will always want to be fed. So let’s shift jobs out of these unhealthy companies, and create new ones serving people more healthy food! I don’t know if you are aware there is a major health issue in the USA right now. Too much junk food is causing diabetes and cancer. Think of all the families that affects if you dare.

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Tom T. December 12, 2012 at 6:52 pm

Jeff P. If I offered you a steaming pile of faeces as a meal you wouldn’t eat it (unless you’re a hungry dog). However, if I gave you some meat that had been mixed with a small amount of my fresh poo you might never know – you probably wouldn’t even taste it if it was sufficiently diluted, it might even taste great (depending what I ate the night before)! However, it still contains faeces, it’s not a good replacement for meat… If I then came and told you “hey, that meat you’re eating contains my steamy poo”, you would be annoyed, you would be upset, you’d probably kick my ass, and you certainly wouldn’t accept meat from me again! But… wouldn’t you be happy that I at least told you that I’d pooped in your meat rather than let you keep eating it each time you ate meat? The answer you are looking for is “yes”. I’ll let you figure out the analogy, it’s safe to say that knowing what you eat surely can’t be a bad thing and consumers havbe the right to vote with their feet and they did…

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Jess December 20, 2012 at 1:24 am

Best. Reply. Ever.

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Herb Tarkel December 12, 2012 at 8:47 pm

Fire?

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Carl S December 12, 2012 at 9:31 pm

Jeff,

Matters of public importance and individual rights to expression cannot, de facto, be made secondary to keeping the production of this product going without public scrutiny – especially when this food stuff, directly contributes to people’s health at large. We most certainly should know what we’re eating, and as a chemist I can tell you that the ammonium hydroxide reportedly used (BBC news) to kill bacteria in the process of creating this pink slime is not a pleasant chemical.

I applaud Bettina and the efforts of others as they make clear exactly what’s going on behind the scenes. The term “Pink Slime” seems to adequately redress the balance hitherto tilted towards what seems to me like a gross misrepresentation of the product – as though it is something more appetizing that its processing history really bear testament to.

Let people make a free choice with all the information before them. Thank you Bettina.

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JEDIDIAH December 13, 2012 at 12:19 pm

“But think of the job losses” is never a good reason to ignore sound public policy, subvert capitalism, or to suppress free speech.

An informed consumer may not want what you’re selling.

Regulations were relaxed in order to allow this crud to be fed to humans. It is something so vile that it has to be used as filler lest someone mistake it for rancid. The fact that it can no longer be fed to humans is no reason to close up shop. That’s just a corporation acting like a spoiled child.

Add it to dog food if humans don’t want it.

If anything, this lawsuit is a badge of honor to all those named. For once journalism did it’s job. It informed the public.

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Karen Le Billon December 12, 2012 at 2:12 pm

Astounding. I’m so sorry you have to deal with this, Bettina. Millions of parents are deeply appreciative of what you do. And if you need our support–just let us know.

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Bettina Elias Siegel December 12, 2012 at 3:33 pm

Thank you, Karen. I really appreciate that.

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EdT. December 14, 2012 at 1:40 pm

*LIKE*

~EdT.

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Tom December 12, 2012 at 6:32 pm

Are you a doctor? NO
Were you wrong? YES
Should you be held accountable for your wrong information? YES
Accountability will be handled in our courts!
Congratulations Mr Smith.
Please remove this webpage before you ruin other communities and cost more innocent people their jobs with your bad information.

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Nancy Huehnergarth December 13, 2012 at 9:00 am

Hmm. Filing a lawsuit on the pink slime issue while simultaneously publicizing a book on the pink slime issue strikes me as curiously unethical. But then again, Mr. Smith’s former employer, BPI, always took actions always struck me as unethical — such as working the system to ensure that consumers wouldn’t know that LFTB is in the nation’s ground beef. Seems like Mr. Smith’s sense of ethics mirrors his former employer’s.

Bettina, I’m so sorry you have to spend time fighting this unwarranted lawsuit but I have full confidence you will prevail. I’m hopeful you can countersue for any legal fees and other related costs to fight this suit. Mr. Smith’s true motives will surely be revealed in court.

Thank you again for helping to reveal the presence of LFTB in our school’s ground beef supply. You are a hero to so many and we support you!

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Richard December 13, 2012 at 4:25 pm

Tom, Are you a doctor?

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Graham Shevlin December 18, 2012 at 10:02 am

Tom is almost certainly not a lawyer, since he appears to have no idea of the extent to which the lawsuit lacks merit. A typical drive-by posting, composed of a string of yah-boo assertions with not even a smidgeon of an argument.

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Bettina Elias Siegel December 19, 2012 at 2:04 pm

If you’ve attempted to post a comment and don’t see it appear here, please consult this blog’s comments policy. Please also note that as of 12/19/12, the policy has been updated to indicate that I will summarily block any “commenters using aliases and multiple email addresses to appear to be more than one reader. I will use my reasonable judgment, based on IP addresses and other information, to determine if a commenter is engaging in this practice.”

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Dr. Jimmy Rustles December 12, 2012 at 6:59 pm

You do realize the irony of saying:

“I’ll have no further comment except to say that I’m confident the First Amendment protects the rights of all Americans, including bloggers like myself, against meritless attempts at censorship like this one”

While moderating comments on a public blog is sort of hypocritical, right?

And of course you would say that it is meritless.

Would you say that the people arguing against vaccinations should be afforded the same immunity that you feel you deserve? After all, they are making their arguments based on provably bad “science”. The arguments against the “pink slime” aren’t based on anything factual, just people feeling that it shouldn’t be in their food. That’s okay, nothing wrong with that.

But, how would you feel if someone started a big campaign creating a false sense of fear of http://www.thelunchtray.com? Would that still be an acceptable use of free speech? Or would you say that they couldn’t make meritless accusations? And, of course, they would be meritless, because they don’t align with what you believe to be true.

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Bettina Elias Siegel December 12, 2012 at 11:52 pm

Dr. Jimmy Rusties: You refer to this blog as “public” but in fact it is a private forum run by me, not the government, and I can moderate comments in any manner I choose, accepting for publication all comments or none or anything in between. That said, I think regular TLT readers will attest to the fact that I am very liberal in letting in opposing viewpoints no matter how vehemently I might disagree with them. The only comments I won’t publish are those containing ad hominem attacks, profanity or other incivility.

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Dr. Jimmy Rustles December 13, 2012 at 11:18 pm

How would anyone know how liberal you are in letting in opposing viewpoints if you pre-moderate comments?

For example… Let’s say there are 20 comments on a post. Three of them disagree with what you’re stating. How does anyone know how many people really tried to post a comment? Might have been three. Might have been 50.

You may also want to update your “about” page, as it does contain some inaccurate information right now.

“Rest assured that I’m not a Food Nazi out to scold anyone for eating fat, sugar, carbs, gluten or anything else.”

Unless it is LFTB.

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Bettina Elias Siegel December 13, 2012 at 11:31 pm

Well, I suppose that’s a chance we all take with any moderated blog, right? How can any of us know what comments we aren’t seeing? I’ve earned the trust of my readers over two and a half years of daily blogging. They’ve seen me spar in a consistently civil fashion with those who disagree with me on a variety of issues. All I require is civility in return. Sadly, though, there are some who can’t comply with this most basic requirement and if that’s the case, they can spew their ugliness elsewhere.

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EdT. December 14, 2012 at 4:59 pm

I have been following this blog since before the LFTB kerfuffle broke. And, as I recall, until things started getting ugly (as in “racist and misogynistic and use of lots of foul language” ugly), it wasn’t even moderated except for a person’s first comment. Unfortunately, there was a group of people who decided to litter this blog with their verbal garbage, and in response Bettina had to moderate *all* comments (including those of us who have been around for awhile and who obey her rules.) And, yes, even then she let a lot of opposing viewpoints through – in fact, she let a lot of stuff through that I would have 86ed (for example the gazillionth comment that did nothing but point people to “beefisbeef[dot]whateveritwas”.)

~EdT.

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Richard Brown December 12, 2012 at 7:36 pm

Hi Bettina

I’m not sure I even understand why you’re being sued? What did you do other than speak out the truth?

In my job as a youth worker, I regularly encourage young people to eat healthily. I will tell young people to avoid unhealthy food like MacDonalds and make their own burgers. I just think it makes health and financial sense. It seems to me that the argument is that if a local MacDs closes because of my work, workers could sue me for causing it. I think I would be proud.

Thanks for all you’ve done. I hope this goes away quickly.

Rich

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Herb Tarkel December 12, 2012 at 8:47 pm

Absolutely ridiculous. Stand up and continue to speak out against these kind of Frankenfoods!

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Aaron Weiss December 13, 2012 at 2:16 am

“I will vigorously defend my right, and the rights of all of us, to speak out on matters of public importance and to petition the federal government, as I did through Change.org, to change any policy with which we disagree.”

Texas’s anti-SLAPP statute specifically mentions the right to petition the government. By bringing that up here, should we read between the lines and assume you’ll seek to recover your fees and extra damages as provided by the anti-SLAPP law?

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allhailtheslimeslayer December 14, 2012 at 9:56 am

She was sued in South Dakota, not Texas.

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EdT. December 14, 2012 at 5:02 pm

Actually, I think I read it was in Nebraska.

~EdT.

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Maria December 13, 2012 at 2:58 am

there are some food items that are not available in my part of the world – pink slime is one of them (my town also lacks mcdonalds and kfc) – lucky me

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nev December 13, 2012 at 3:30 am

Most people are right behind you Bettina. Just because some people have jobs producing this stuff doesn’t make it producing it defensible! And Americans really do deserve – and need – to eat better than that.

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K.W. December 13, 2012 at 3:54 am

I just read about this on the BBC News website. I didn’t watch the “pink slime” program, but I’m sure Jamie Oliver did his best in fighting unhealthy food as he always does. Mr Smith doesn’t sound convincing in his accusations and I agree with other comments, that he probably uses the lawsuit to publicize his book.
I hope this turns out well for you and the other defendants. Fight on!

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Bob December 13, 2012 at 10:23 am

You should actually watch it, and see how rediculous it is. He poured household ammonia on some beef, as if that has anything at all to do with how lftb is produced. He straight up lied about what lftb is, and SHOULD be sued for it.

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Richard December 13, 2012 at 4:27 pm

Look at his TED talk though. American schoolchildren consume a wheelbarrow full of sugar that is injected into their school milk

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Kerstin Rodgers December 13, 2012 at 6:07 am

More power to your blogging elbow Bettina. You just said it like it is. Ok, it’s awful that this guy lost his job but the fact that he’s got a book deal and the nouse to sue suggests he’s not exactly a poor uneducated victim who can’t get another job. He seems very resourceful.
The problem was the industry he worked in was frankly disgusting.

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Joss December 13, 2012 at 6:10 am

As a writer who writes about the politics of food as well as writing recipes, it is essential that commentators should be able to make valid opinions about the food we eat – especially when it comes to the food we feed our children.

Despite living longer than our ancestors, we are not, often, healthier. This is as much to do with the huge quantities we eat (and waste) as the more popular complaint of the low quality of many food stuffs.

We need to educate ourselves to eat less and educate the food industry to only supply us with healthy, good quality food.

That means that we should be able to point to and identify the rubbish.

The manufacturers complain that their methods are needed to keep the price down for consumers – but then they undermine that argument by pushing the consumer to buy far more than they need.

If a company produces low grade, poor quality, food stuffs that has little nutritional value, then they should expect those that actually CARE for the health of the nation to stand up and complain.

It is called the” marketplace” and there will be losers and winners. We want the winners to be the ones that produce food that society can be proud of.

Now, which part of that should be gagged by a legal process?

Joss

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Jamie December 13, 2012 at 7:00 am

Someone needs to speak up about these issues. You have done nothing wrong. Keep up the good work!

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Joss December 13, 2012 at 7:55 am

Having read some of the other posts, and a couple that are just plain nasty, I just thought of an interesting comparison.

In the UK we had a turkey product made from mashed bits of Birds. Jamie Oliver among others were extremely critical of this product and it disappeared from school menus up and down the country.

Nobody sued, but companies did get their act together and improved product lines to meet the criticism.

In the US, BPI just gets its lawyers to threaten and sue. Big company bully tactics rather than reactive PR. It seems to be the new way, sadly.

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Bridget December 13, 2012 at 8:05 am

Hi Bettina

I just read about this in the UK press and have just found your blog. As a parent of a youngster at school, I’m a big fan of Jamie Oliver and think he has done some great things to promote good food and remove bad stuff from school canteens. We need more people like you and Jamie who are prepared to speak out. If food is rubbish we should be able to say so. Keep up the good work!

Bridget

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Emma December 13, 2012 at 9:35 am

Criminy. That is ridiculous. I like the double-whammy of ethical violations: putting something nobody wants to eat in food, and THEN promoting a book about it in conjunction with a lawsuit! Class act.

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Adrian December 13, 2012 at 5:58 pm

Blimey (or should I say “Slimey), what is this, you express your opinion about a food product (nee: additive) and you get a notice of suit just because of a company’s reduction of staff. If being made redundent causes emotional stress then perhaps they should be pointing the blame in another direction.
Surely a firm that produces a single or very small range of product is at risk of demand going away and thus perhaps is negligent in its application of business strategy and protecting its workforce and shareholders from market forces.

You, Jamie and the others are a positive influence on todays society and our families health, keep it up!

A concerned parent (Houston, TX)

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Bettina Elias Siegel December 13, 2012 at 9:34 pm

Thanks to all of you above who’ve expressed support and left words of encouragement. Your kindess is sincerely appreciated.

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Laura December 14, 2012 at 10:38 am

I understand that people have lost their jobs over this Pink Slime controversy. But how is this in way Bettina’s fault or the fault of anyone else being sued? Shouldn’t the company that produced this product and didn’t bother to fully disclose what was in this product be at fault? Maybe this company should not have sold this product to begin with and maybe they should have thought about their customers instead of only their bottom line. Can anyone say that pink slime is good for us? If it isn’t beneficial in any way for the health of the consumers, why add it? And if the benefits/harms of pink slime are unknown, why are the consumers treated as guinea pigs and without awareness? It is very clear that changes need to be made in the US food system. Food companies have a responsibility to provide high quality food and full disclosure of their products. Consumers have a responsibility to question food companies and make sure they are telling the truth.

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Amy December 14, 2012 at 11:41 am

Oh geez, another frivolous lawsuit. I too am confident that the First Amendment protects your right. It does make me rather disgusted that so many of my fellow US citizens think this type of lawsuit is acceptable, but thankfully there are others like Bettina who aren’t intimidated to stand up for our rights.

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EdT. December 14, 2012 at 1:23 pm

Bettina – I just read about this, and the second thing I did was check over at Popehat. Didn’t see anything there yet – have you been in contact with him about it? (I realize you haven’t actually seen the papers yet, but thought maybe he could put up the Popehat Signal early.)

I do hope you prevail, and are able to recover any attorney’s and other fees that you have to expend to defend yourself.

I don’t know what if anything I can do to help, but let me know if you think of something, ‘k?

~EdT.

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Mrs Q December 16, 2012 at 3:10 pm

Oy vey! That sucks. Hang in there, Bettina. Good thing you understand “legalese” as a lawyer.

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EdT December 17, 2012 at 12:45 pm
mommm!!! December 29, 2012 at 7:47 am

Oh goodie…the pink slime conversation continues! I hope its covered by the media and I hope the book gets highly visible and terrible reviews. Oprah, as far as I know, is the only person to successfully defend herself against a beef type lawsuit. Hopefully, this lawsuit will continue in the spirit of Oprah’s success! Last time I checked, it’s not against the law to file a petition. And if you knowingly fed chemical spritzed crap to the public, I’m not sure how you can blame anyone but yourself when people peek behind the curtain and find there is no OZ. Lastly, the horrors of this product has been well documented in food documentaries long before this blog even existed. So I’m not sure how a person can cherry pick who to sue in the long line of publicly anti chemically spritzed crap covered trim group that has been around much longer and even has distributed DVDs on the subject. So I wouldn’t be too upset. Unfortunately, it’s a bunch of paperwork and the cost of an attorney. I heard Bill Marler is an expert attorney on the subject of food law. He’d be my choice.

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mommm!!! December 29, 2012 at 8:01 am

So I found this buried in one of the eleven links provided below…this is an exact copy and paste:

“I found the book on Amazon. I checked out the sample pages that Amazon provides.

Under consideration of the threat of being sued for giving my honest opinion of what I have read so far, I can see why the ‘author’ wants money from a lawsuit. Just from the sample, his book is probably one of the most amateurish, poorly written books I’ve had the misfortune to read at Amazon.

Legally replicated excerpt:

“In town, we had two grocers, Sunshine and IGA, both of whom sold different cuts of meat and ground beef, all of which sat behind a class counter, much like what you see today, except there was not as much variety. We’d run up to the front of Sunshine grocery store, hop up onto the penny mechanical horse and ask mom to put a penny in the coin slot. The ride last five unbearable minutes for mom!! She bought the store prepared ground beef. We didn’t have specially seasoned burgers or patties to buy like you find today. There weren’t six different kinds of marinated chicken breasts or stuffed pork chops. Stuff your own chops, buddy! Meat was meat. Chicken wings were not a valued food product as they are in our’wings and things’ society of the twenty-first century. Food labeled to any degree did not exist as it does today with complicated ‘hard to read’ small print and hidden meaning. As for USDA rules and regulations – well, I guess those would come later.”

Exactly as found in book. Yes, a single paragraph, with exact punctuation found in book.Leaving aside the egregious error about USDA rules and regulations (unless the guy is over 100), what can I say about this excerpt except that I regret the time lost reading it. However, I do feel I have done a public service, warning others to forgo the experience for themselves.”

End Quote. And hahahhahahhhahaaaaaaa!!!!! I knew it.

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Truth Seeker February 1, 2013 at 4:25 pm

Media, social media, and people with blogs. Should be responsible for spreading false information. I hope BPI wins and makes and example out of all those named in this case.

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