I viewed with interest your recent report regarding CBS's 60 Minutes' intimidation by the tobacco industry. Your story concentrated on whether CBS should have stood their ground against threats to be sued.
I am sorry, but I think you missed the core problem.
The basis for the intimidation was the existence of a dysfunctional legal system. If a plaintiff can bring a suit under a regime whereby its outcome is not subject to the rigorous application of justice, but rather dependent upon "a sympathetic jury selected from a tobacco growing region", then the news business, and in fact any business, is not safe.
I will remind you of a recent case. A large Canadian funeral corporation recently got into a fight with a small Mississippi funeral operation. The details of this case are not important, and indeed who was right or wrong is unimportant. The bottom line was that the trial was set in the hometown of the funeral operation, with a jury selected from the region. A flamboyant case was made and a jury award of $500 million. To appeal the case the corporation was required to post a bond of $500 million which they could not raise.
To protect the genuine rights of individuals and companies (including the right to protect trade secrets) you suggested that an article "must be in the public interest", This is a good argument, but means nothing if the legal system ultimately used to enforce it cannot be counted upon. Since the determination of what is "in the public interest" is subjective, then a jury subject essentially to plaintiff selection can always be used to circumvent it.
It was with great fascination that I watched your program last night. A mixture of compelling drama and frightening realism, your story has done more to help me screw up my reslove and quit smoking than any message I have encountered in the last several months. I was also fascinated by the details behind the networks' relative decisions in handling the threatened lawsuits from the tobacco lords. I can't help but wonder if the lawsuits weren't just an excuse, a smokescreen if you will, to give the public a simple, easily-swallowed, reason to back down.
As someone who grew up with Walter Cronkite's reports on the War in Vietnam and on
the Apollo Missions, as someone who was inspired as a boy by the incredible tale of
Woodward and Bernstein and Watergate, it is with great sadness that I watch the
integrity of the newsman on the beat whittled away by corporate greed. Your story,
however, is the most hopeful sign I've seen in a long time that perhaps the future
is not so bleak. Thank you.
R. Bruce McCurdy
What new information did you hope to expound in this one? It all sounded like old news...
I enjoyed your program "Smoke in the Eye". I often complain about the liberal media stepping out of bounds, however, I have never questioned their first amendment rights. I find it frightening, that the news backed away from these stories. The media serves as the final watchdog for the people. If they back away from legitimate stories because of the threat of being sued, who will get the information to the people? Thank you for doing this story.
Michaela E. Noble
Your investigation into the ABC/CBS reporting fiasco was brilliant. As an investigative reporter, I empathize with the respected Mike Wallace and Daniel Schorr.
But more importantly, I admire these journalists and PBS for their courage in reporting the real story behind a growing epidemic in the news industry: corporate executives -- including editors, lawyers, and news directors -- who let their personal interest(s) infect the public's right to know.
Thank you so much for your excellent programming. As a child I watched my grandmother suffer from chronic bronchitis and undergo surgery to remove a portion of her lung. She smoked all the while. I saw my grandfathers progressively crippled by heart disease and accept this as a malady of middle age as they puffed away. I visited my father in the intensive care unit where he landed after suffering a heart attack at age forty. As my stepmother took him to the hospital with his chest pain, he stopped on the lawn of St. Mary's, sat down and enjoyed a cigarette because he knew they wouldn't let him smoke in the hospital. He was a four pack a day man at the time. Two months after our marriage I watched my wife's fifty nine year old mother die from cigarette induced vascular disease in the hospital where I practice emergency medicine.
And every day when I go to work I see the effects: senior citizens laboring to breathe with emphysematous lungs as they struggle through their "golden years", business executives with heart attacks at age forty, college freshmen with asthma attacks. They all have a right to smoke, and they exercise that right, many of them until the day they die.
Tobacco maims and tobacco kills, and for a tobacco company executive to maintain that he does not believe there is a link between cigarettes and disease is ludicrous. It also seems ludicrous to me to hear a media executive say that if there were situations where news media corporate decisions were influenced by the prospects of significant financial gain for a few top executives we would hear about it in the news from the journalistic arms of those same organizations.
Thank you Frontline for producing this program which graphically demonstrated the strangle hold that the corporate offices of ABC and CBS had on the journalistic throats of some of the most respected members of the news media.
The Frontline story "Smoke in Your Eyes" was the most biased, single-sided story I have ever watched on Frontline. It iterated the anti-tobacco stories of the major networks, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. The Frontline story provided no new information the public did not already know, and did not provide any perspective on both sides of the issue.
I do not smoke, have never smoked, hate second-hand smoke, and believe that smoking damages your health. Irrespective of what the scientific evidence may or may not say, everyone knows that cigarettes contain nicotine, and that smoking is addictive. Why else is it so hard to give up smoking? Call it folklore if you will, but the addiction of tobacco, or tobacco products, is public knowledge.
Now to the fairness issue: Coca-Cola, Kellogg, General Mills and other companies manufacturing products that are ingested by the consumer maintain high quality control standards for the consistency of their products. The Coca-Cola you drink today tastes the same as the Coca-Cola you will drink next year. Wine is a natural product that varies from year to year, so Gallo and other large, commercial wineries blend their wines to maintain year-to-year consistency (hence no specific year on the label). Does that mean that vintners "manipulate the alcohol" in their wines?
Cigarette manufacturers face the same issue. In order to maintain a consistent product, they must blend various tobaccos and tobacco products. What they are doing is quality control, not "manipulation." If they wanted to manipulate, they would produce a brand of cigarettes made from a strain of high nicotine tobacco and call the brand "Macho" or use some other marketing ploy. Bear in mind that manipulation of nicotine - if indeed the tobacco companies choose to do that - is not illegal. The Frontline story presented the picture as if "manipulation" were a crime. It is not. FAIRNESS, FAIRNESS! PLEASE!