Oprah Winfrey Is Found Not Guilty

"Free speech not only lives, it rocks," a beaming Oprah Winfrey said Thursday after jurors rejected a multimillion-dollar defamation lawsuit by Texas cattlemen.

The Amarillo, Texas, jury decided the television talk show host did not maliciously harm the U.S. beef industry in a 1996 program on mad cow disease.

Plaintiffs who say the show caused a cattle market plunge that caused them to lose $11 million said they planned to appeal, and were pleased if the trial caused television talk shows to become more "responsible."

Free speech not only lives, it rocks!”

— Oprah Winfrey

Winfrey's influence reaches far beyond pop culture and into unrelated industries where many believe she has the power to cause enormous market swings and radical price changes with a single comment. During a show about mad cow disease with Howard Lyman (aired on April 16, 1996), Winfrey exclaimed, "It has just stopped me cold from eating another burger!" Texas cattlemen sued her and Lyman in early 1998 for "false defamation of perishable food" and "business disparagement", claiming that Winfrey's remarks subsequently sent cattle prices tumbling, costing beef producers some USD$12 million. On February 26, after a trial spanning over two months in an Amarillo, Texas court in the thick of cattle country, a jury found Winfrey and Lyman were not liable for damages. (After the trial, she received a postcard from Roseanne Barr reading, “Congratulations, you beat the meat!”) In June 2005 the first case of mad cow disease in a cow native to the United States was detected in Texas. The USDA concluded that it was most likely infected in Texas prior to 1997.