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Oprah: 'No beef with beef'

Oprah and Stedman
Oprah and Stedman outside the courtroom Thursday  

Talk show queen finishes her testimony

February 5, 1998
Web posted at: 8:44 p.m. EST (0144 GMT)

AMARILLO, Texas (CNN) -- With her longtime companion Stedman Graham along for moral support, talk show host Oprah Winfrey completed her third and last day on the witness stand Thursday in a defamation suit brought by a group of Texas cattle producers.

Questioned by her own attorney, Chip Babcock, a more relaxed Winfrey said she "couldn't believe" she was sued over an April 1996 show on mad cow disease, which the cattle growers say triggered a drop in beef prices that cost them millions of dollars.

"I have no beef with the beef industry," she said. "I do not believe this show caused a drop in cattle prices."

Winfrey also denied that she "ambushed" a cattle industry representative during the taping. The jury was shown a 20-minute videotape of a rehearsal in which the industry spokesman, Gary Weber, was interviewed by a stand-in for Winfrey.

"After seeing the tapes, it is obvious to me that Dr. Weber cannot in any way say he was ambushed," she said.

Oprah says her show doesn't break news

Winfrey was also asked about videotaped testimony of show producer Jim Kelly, who said Winfrey told him how to edit the show and later criticized him for it. She denied doing either.

Attorneys also introduced several reports on mad cow disease from national newspapers and television news shows, making the point that Winfrey was merely following the lead of other media in pursuing the story of the risk of mad cow disease to the American food supply.

"We don't have the kind of investigative team that goes out and breaks news stories," she said.

Judge to Oprah: Just answer the questions

On the stand, Winfrey exhibited the skills that have made her a success as a talk show host, seizing on opportunities to make her own case to the jury. But that drew the ire of U.S. District Judge Mary Lou Robinson, who reminded Winfrey to confine her answers to the questions asked.

Winfrey is being sued under a Texas law that protects agricultural products from defamatory remarks, one of a number of so-called "veggie libel" laws that have been passed by states. The suit was moved to federal court because Winfrey's show is based in Illinois.

The cattle producers claim that her show on mad cow disease -- a debilitating illness in cattle with a related human form that has killed a number of people in Europe -- was sensational and unduly alarmist. There have been no known outbreaks of the disease in the United States, in either cattle or humans.

Thursday, Winfrey said she was troubled by being hauled into court for the contents of her show.

"We live in a country where you can sue people if you want to sue them. I respect that I can be sued. But I have questioned everyone, including Jesus, why I'm here," she said.

Correspondent Jeff Flock contributed to this report.


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