Oprah Does Amarillo

It's the Queen of Talk versus the Meat Men, and outside the courtroom, master media manipulator Winfrey is already the clear winner.

The tease to his story filed, Rampy steps away from the camera, leans back on one foot, and claps his hands. "This job is so dang easy," he exclaims. "Just memorize two lines and nail them over and over."

It's a little too easy for Fox's "A-team" correspondent, Shepard Smith, who is already suffering from boredom.

How Smith, with his bright blue eyes and practiced scowl, got to the top is hard to guess, but it's likely it wasn't because of his unique ability to sniff out a scoop.

"Are you guys going down to Austin to cover that chick execution?" he asks members of the nearby CBS crew, referring to pickax murderer Karla Faye Tucker. "Texans kill somebody every week, but she's a chick, so...."

Across the street, Amarillo Mayor Kel Seliger tells a crew from NBC that the trial is the city's one chance to shine.

"It's an unusual opportunity, without the negatives of a Waco, to introduce people to this community," Seliger says, his hands stuffed casually in the pockets of his pinstriped suit.

Ah, Waco. Dead Branch Davidians and federal agents. What a public relations nightmare that was.

"Amarillo is a nice town, and the people are enthusiastic about [Winfrey's presence]," Seliger says.

For the last four hours, Seliger and his hired public relations expert, Eric Miller, have talked with one reporter after the next, dismissing questions about the Chamber of Commerce memo that stated the chamber would not roll out the red carpet for Winfrey and ordered employees not to attend tapings of Winfrey's show.

As Seliger wraps up his remarks, he tells the NBC crew to be sure to stop by his house Wednesday night for a party.

Back at the Fox tent, Smith snaps open a CoverGirl compact and prepares Miller's face for an interview.

Then, assuming his position in front of the camera, Smith replaces his scowl with a smile and tells the world that the story in Amarillo is not about beef, but is a libel battle between Oprah and Texas cattlemen.

"When she dissed their beef, they called her bluff," Smith says, his voice thundering into a hand-held microphone.

The camera zooms out from Smith's face as he prepares his segue to the local angle.

"Hundreds of media have rolled into town, all on expense accounts, buying up all the lunches in town," Smith says, turning to Miller, who calmly fields the same questions he's already answered dozens of times today.

"No," the trial won't have a negative aspect on the cattle industry. "Yes," the visiting celebrities and media are certainly helping the local economy -- especially now, when the tourism industry is dead.

Satisfied, Smith turns back to the camera and ends his report. "Outside, we have people walking around dressed as cows, but inside, hopefully, we have a very serious judge."

In the background, McBroom snuffs out a cigarette in the grass and shakes her head.

"Tomorrow," she says, "I'll come dressed as a chicken."

Opening arguments begin on Wednesday, January 21. Judge Robinson has expanded the press pool to allow more reporters in the courtroom on a first-come, first-served basis. Only eight take advantage during the first week of the trial; the rest are content to stand outside the courtroom and rely on their colleagues to do their jobs for them.

Besides Engler's relatives, the media and a few curious local attorneys, the courtroom is packed with people who have come to get a glimpse of Winfrey.

On this afternoon, Engler's attorneys would present an argument that "Dangerous Food" was "scary."

"It was never intended to be a show where opinions were shared. It was never intended to be a show that asked the question, 'Could it happen here?' " Engler attorney David Mullin told the court. "It was intended to be a scary show."

Mullin promised to detail how the show was supposedly edited to cut out the pro-beef comments of Dr. Gary Weber, a representative of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, while keeping allegedly false and damaging remarks about the cattle industry by Howard Lyman, an activist with the U.S. Humane Society.

Of course, Winfrey's attorneys will later argue that Lyman's comments were true, and they will say Winfrey has every right to ask questions and express her opinions.

The case boils down to the debate over whether a cow is still a cow if it is slaughtered, its excess parts cooked and boiled, mixed into food supplements that resemble "dog food" and then fed to other cows.

Engler believes Lyman and Winfrey falsely described the practice by saying that cows were eating other cows. Engler doesn't deny that he and other U.S. cattlemen fed these rendered cows to other cows -- until the process was linked to mad cow disease in Great Britain. (The U.S. government has since banned the practice.) He just didn't like the way the information was phrased, especially the part where Lyman told the audience that not only has the cattle industry turned cows into carnivores, it's made them "cannibals."

"It has just stopped me cold from eating another burger," Winfrey told Lyman during her broadcast. "I'm stopped."

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