[This transcript is provided
as a service of Journal Graphics. The WGBH Educational Foundation is not
responsible for any errors or mischaracterizations in this transcript.
FRONTLINE Show #1413
Air Date: April 2, 1996
Smoke in the Eye
ANNOUNCER: Tonight on FRONTLINE:
MIKE WALLACE, CBS News: [""60 Minutes""] Thousands of documents
from inside the tobacco industry have surfaced_
ANNOUNCER: What really happened when "60 Minutes" took on the
tobacco industry? Did CBS spike its own journalists?
MIKE WALLACE: [""60 Minutes""] CBS could be faced with a
ANNOUNCER: Get the story you didn't see.
MIKE WALLACE: [""60 Minutes""] _and they have used the court to
intimidate the media and_
ANNOUNCER: Tonight, correspondent Daniel Schorr tells the inside story,
"Smoke in the Eye," on FRONTLINE.
DANIEL SCHORR, FRONTLINE Correspondent: Just before daybreak in
Louisville, Kentucky, a pair of former Secret Service agents begin what has
become a daily routine, carefully sweeping their client's vehicle for booby
JEFFREY WIGAND: It's a different way of living. When you have somebody
every morning goes out and checks and starts my car, you know, checks your
mail, opens your mail, makes sure that the mail you're getting is safe, that
somebody's not trying to do something violent to you. He follows me to make
sure I'm not followed, make sure that people can't physically assault me.
Threats to scare me to death_ I mean, they're intimidating.
DANIEL SCHORR: For the past four months, bodyguards have been escorting
him. The FBI is investigating death threats. It's the kind of security you
might expect for a statesman or even for the wealthy business executive he once
His name is Dr. Jeffrey Wigand, high school teacher. He was once a vice
president for scientific research at the Brown & Williamson Tobacco
Company. Since he was fired in March, 1993, the company has invoked his
confidentiality agreement, trying to keep him quiet.
JEFFREY WIGAND: People who know me know I'm very ethical. They also know
I'm_ I play pretty hardball. I don't stand for much that really goes outside
the boundaries of legality. And I saw too much of that, to where it bothers my
DANIEL SCHORR: In August, 1995, he decided to clear his conscience and
tell CBS's "60 Minutes" about Brown & Williamson.
JEFFREY WIGAND: [""60 Minutes""] I was paid well. It was
DANIEL SCHORR: He spoke of his life as a tobacco executive with
correspondent Mike Wallace.
MIKE WALLACE, CBS News: [""60 Minutes""] You were happy to take
down the 300,000 bucks a year.
JEFFREY WIGAND: I essentially, yeah, took the money. I did my job.
DANIEL SCHORR: For "60 Minutes" producer Lowell Bergman, that
interview was the product of 18 months of work slowly winning the confidence of
Wigand, the highest-ranking tobacco insider ever to speak out.
LOWELL BERGMAN, Producer, ""60 Minutes"": The real thing that we were
doing here was presenting a voice from inside the industry, which miraculously
had been able to maintain kind of an almost rigid discipline amongst its former
executives and current executives.
DANIEL SCHORR: And the voice was saying?
LOWELL BERGMAN: "It's addictive. We know that. That's how we talk about
it." The voice was saying, "It's a health problem. In fact, it's a bigger
health problem than people really realize and we've known about it for years
and that's how we talk about it inside."
JEFFREY WIGAND: [""60 Minutes""] Their representation, clearly_
at least within Brown & Williamson's representation, clearly misstated what
they commonly knew as language within the company, that we're a nicotine
MIKE WALLACE: And that's what cigarettes are for.
JEFFREY WIGAND: Most certainly. It's a delivery device for nicotine.
MIKE WALLACE: A delivery device for nicotine. Put it in your mouth,
light it up and you're going to get your fix.
JEFFREY WIGAND: You'll get your fix.
DANIEL SCHORR: But when the story finally ran, Dr. Wigand wasn't in
MIKE WALLACE: [""60 Minutes""] We learned of a tobacco insider
who could tell us whether or not the tobacco industry has been leveling to the
public, but we cannot broadcast what critical information about tobacco,
addiction and public health he might be able to offer. Why? Because he had to
sign a confidentiality agreement with the tobacco company he worked for.
DANIEL SCHORR: Mike Wallace was forced to admit he was gagging his own
whistle-blower on orders.
MIKE WALLACE: [""60 Minutes""] Is your confidentiality agreement
with [deleted] still in force?
JEFFREY WIGAND: Yes, it is.
MIKE WALLACE: So that what are they going to do, sue you for making this
JEFFREY WIGAND: I would bet on it.
DANIEL SCHORR: Wallace would later admit he had never encountered
anything quite like this.
MIKE WALLACE: Never before. Never before. From time to time,
corporations will make their displeasure known to the honchos at CBS News, but
we're always protected from it. In this particular case, it was the CBS lawyers
who told us that were we to go ahead, there was a good possibility that the
Brown & Williamson Tobacco corporation would sue and sue for perhaps $10
billion, $15 billion.
WALTER CRONKITE, former CBS News Anchor: It seems to me that it sent a
terrible message out to all broadcasters across the nation, perhaps around the
world, because here is "60 Minutes", a top-10 program, the_ the top
program CBS has had on the air for_
DANIEL SCHORR: The most successful_
WALTER CRONKITE: _almost 20 years_
DANIEL SCHORR: _news program ever.
WALTER CRONKITE: Most successful news program and most successful
program, I mean, of everything, a huge money-maker for the company. And
they're_ and the management of "60 Minutes" has the power there, quite
clearly, to say, "I'm sorry. We're doing this because we must do it. This is a
journalistic imperative. We have this story and we're going with it. We've got
to take whatever the legal chances are on it." Well, they didn't. They felt it
was necessary to buckle under the legal pressures and that must send a message
to every station across the country where they might have any ambitions to do
investigative reporting, "Hey, look, if "60 Minutes" can't stand the
pressure, then none of us ought to get in the kitchen at all." I mean, it's
just_ it's just a hopeless cause.
DANIEL SCHORR: Veterans of another era at CBS see Dr. Jeffrey Wigand's
experience with "60 Minutes" as a cautionary tale of big media and big
business. The issue is the power of a beleaguered industry _ in this case,
cigarettes _ to influence what you see on television and especially what you
don't see. The issue is also the freedom of television journalism operating
under pressure of expanding media conglomerates and what happens when the
public interest runs afoul of a business interest.
In the case of "60 Minutes", CBS was not the first network to face the
cigarette makers' end run.
FORREST SAWYER, ABC News: ["day1one," February 28, 1994] Tonight,
a Day One investigation that took the government by surprise. There's something
tobacco companies don't want you to know.
CLIFF DOUGLAS: The industry manipulates nicotine, takes it out, puts it
back in, uses it as if it were sugar being put in candy.
DANIEL SCHORR: In February and March, 1994, the ABC News program
day1one accused the tobacco industry of manipulating nicotine in
cigarettes to cause addiction. They had their own whistle-blower.
WHISTLE BLOWER: ["day1one"] They put nicotine, in the form of
tobacco extract, into a product to keep the consumer happy.
JOHN MARTIN, ABC News: They're fortifying the product with nicotine. Is
WHISTLE BLOWER: The waste filler_ yes, they are.
PHILIP HILTS, New York Times: The reason why the day1one
piece was important was because the FDA, at this time, had its own
investigation going and they had turned and focused on nicotine. "Is this a
drug? Because if it is a drug, we can regulate it." The government has a right
to regulate it. It says so in the law.
DANIEL SCHORR: For reporters like Philip Hilts of The New York
Times, this was a major break in the tobacco story, supporting the new FDA
proposal to regulate nicotine as a drug.
PHILIP HILTS: Then on one weekend, both of them came out, a letter from
the FDA saying we could regulate this, and a piece on ABC saying, "This is the
center of the tobacco business. They're manipulating nicotine." So it was
crucial. It was the first big story of this two-year run of stories.
DANIEL SCHORR: The day1one revelations also caught the eye of a
lawyer in Charleston, South Carolina. Ron Motley is working on five major
lawsuits against the tobacco industry, all seeking damages for tobacco-related
health problems. day1one provided him with some fresh ammunition.
RON MOTLEY, Attorney: They brought forth a lot of information that was
otherwise unavailable and opened some doors for the lawyers to pursue. It was
a_ and_ and the_ like almost a cartography or a mapping of_ of information that
we could pursue and we have pursued.
Rep. HENRY WAXMAN, (D), CA: I'd like you to rise and those who will be
DANIEL SCHORR: Five weeks after the day1one report, seven top
tobacco executives were summoned before a Congressional subcommittee.
Rep. HENRY WAXMAN: [April 14, 1994] Would you raise your right
hand? Do you swear that the testimony you are about to give_
DANIEL SCHORR: Each was asked under oath about a key assertion of the
Day One story.
Rep. RON WYDEN, (D), OR: Please consider yourself to be under oath. Yes
or no. Do you believe nicotine is not addictive?
WILLIAM CAMPBELL, Pres. and CEO, Philip Morris: I believe nicotine is
not addictive, yes.
Rep. RON WYDEN: Mr. Johnston?
JAMES W. JOHNSTON, Chairman and CEO, RJR Tobacco Company: Congressman,
cigarettes and nicotine clearly do not meet the classic definitions of
addiction. There is_
Rep. RON WYDEN: All right. We'll take_
JAMES JOHNSTON: _no intoxication_
Rep. RON WYDEN: _take that as a "no."
JOSEPH TADDEO, U.S. Tobacco Company: I don't believe that nicotine or
our products are addictive.
Rep. RON WYDEN: All right.
ANDREW TISCH, Lorillard: I believe nicotine is not addictive.
DANIEL SCHORR: The company officials swore up and down the line that
nicotine was not addictive. And under pressure, their denials became even more
DONALD S. JOHNSTON, Pres. and CEO, American Tobacco Company: The
American Tobacco Company does not spike its cigarettes with nicotine.
WILLIAM CAMPBELL: Philip Morris does not add nicotine to our
DANIEL SCHORR: But they had seized on one specific claim made by
JOHN MARTIN: ["day1one"] Why are you artificially spiking your
cigarettes with nicotine?
TOBACCO COMPANY EXECUTIVE: We are not in any way doing that.
DANIEL SCHORR: That specific accusation would be used against ABC by the
tobacco giant Philip Morris.
PHILIP MORRIS SPOKESMAN: [March 24, 1994] We sent a statement
over to ABC making it very clear that we do not spike our cigarettes.
DANIEL SCHORR: And it launched a $10 billion libel suit against the
REPORTER: The suit charges ABC with willful and reckless disregard of
the facts when day1one and other ABC News programs_
DANIEL SCHORR: Even as ABC prepared to fight the Philip Morris suit, its
journalists suddenly found themselves with a new scoop about another tobacco
CLIFF DOUGLAS: Following the nicotine manipulation story,
day1one started receiving other information.
DANIEL SCHORR: Cliff Douglas, a lawyer and anti-tobacco activist, had
been interviewed in the day1one reports and he continued to be a major
source for the ABC journalists.
CLIFF DOUGLAS: Well, the reporters saw this and they knew that they had
something special. They took this information, which they had obtained only a
couple of weeks after Philip Morris had filed suit against ABC, to their
in-house lawyers to say, "Look, we've got this incredible information. We want
to start reporting on this." And to their surprise, the_ ABC's in-house lawyer
said, "No can do."
DANIEL SCHORR: The leaked documents came from the archives of the Brown
& Williamson Tobacco Company.
PHILIP HILTS: These documents are historic, in the sense that they
probably are the single most important pieces of paper in the history of
tobacco versus public health. The documents are things from their internal
files, memos from one executive to another, papers from their research labs,
from labs that they bought things from, and all together, there are thousands
of pages of these things. They talk pretty openly about what they think about
nicotine, what they think about addiction, what they think about the hazards of
cigarettes, and so on, in a way that we've never heard before.
CLIFF DOUGLAS: And when this showed up and was brought to the attention
of ABC's lawyers, they freaked out. They_ they seized not only the original,
but also the copy of all of these documents from their reporters. They seized
the reporters' hard drives from their computers. And they prohibited them from
dealing with the story.
DANIEL SCHORR: Walt Bogdanich, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, was
the first to get the Brown & Williamson documents. A producer for ABC, he
had done much of the work on the original day1one tobacco stories.
INTERVIEWER: Is it true that ABC had the Brown & Williamson
documents a way ahead of everybody else and chose under, you know, some sort of
management decision, not to run them? Is_ is that correct?
WALT BOGDANICH: Well, there's a lot I'd like to say about that topic.
Unfortunately, I can't. My company has taken the position that no one is to
speak about this and since I work for the company, I've got to respect that.
DANIEL SCHORR: ABC News turned down our requests to explain why it had
stopped its journalists from reporting on the Brown & Williamson documents.
We've been told that ABC lawyers had said that publication of the documents was
prohibited by a Kentucky court injunction. Finally, ABC News Executive Vice
President Paul Friedman reluctantly agreed to talk to us.
INTERVIEWER: You had what in retrospect was potentially one of the
biggest scoops of the year, maybe longer, major_ of major importance to the
health of people_ Americans. Why_ why didn't you use it?
PAUL FRIEDMAN, Executive Vice President, ABC News: Well, first, we knew
that we weren't the only ones pursuing these or possibly in possession of this
material, so it wasn't as if we were blanking out the world from having it. In
all of these cases, there is a dialogue between the journalists and the
lawyers. The lawyers felt very strongly that there were legal liabilities. We
argued as strongly as we could that we wanted to use the material. In the final
analysis, they argued more strongly and we decided to take their advice.
DANIEL SCHORR: The lawyers were most emphatic. They reportedly told the
ABC journalists "No news organization will run these documents. None."
INTERVIEWER: But what was it about this material that was so sensitive
that would_ it would invoke the unusual measures where lawyers tell journalists
to surrender notes, to surrender computer disks, to delete material from
computers and just to stay away from this subject, stay away from even
alternate sources of the materials?
PAUL FRIEDMAN: I don't accept your question. I don't accept the fact
that all those things happened_
INTERVIEWER: They didn't happen?
PAUL FRIEDMAN: _as you state them. I don't know, but I don't accept that
they are the case. And it wasn't the nature of the information, as much as the
source of the information and the fact that there were court proceedings under
DANIEL SCHORR: But there was also journalism under way in the newsroom
of The New York Times. In early May, while ABC News executives were
still citing legal taboos, the Times. started publishing detailed
stories from copies it had obtained of some of the Brown & Williamson
PHILIP HILTS: There were virtually no legal concerns at the
Times. When you do a story like this out of documents, you do have to
give them to the lawyers. But, you know, I mean, go over the story with the
lawyers and they say, "Okay, this is this and this is that." But it wasn't a
big deal. I mean, they said almost nothing. The story was solid. It had the
documents. So in the beginning, it just wasn't a problem. In fact, all the way
along, the lawyers were_ at the Times. were very supportive. They really
wanted to see the stories in the paper.
DANIEL SCHORR: The Times. owned the story by the time ABC got
around to reporting a week later. At ABC, that Kentucky court injunction no
longer seemed to matter and the legal battle over the papers was about to move
to a most unlikely arena.
May 12, 1994_ 4,000 pages of the Brown & Williamson material unexpectedly
arrived at the University of California in San Francisco.
STANTON GLANTZ, Professor, University of California, San Francisco: When
these documents arrived on my doorstep, the thing that sucked me into them was
not their potential political or legal import. It was the documents as history,
the documents as science. I mean, it was just an unbelievable find, as a
professor. It would be like an archeologist finding, you know, a new tomb in_
in Egypt or something.
DANIEL SCHORR: Professor Glantz began to make his find available to
researchers through the university library. When Brown & Williamson found
out, it claimed the documents had been stolen and sued for their return.
Prof. STANTON GLANTZ: I have to say there were periods when Brown &
Williamson came in and started threatening the library and it was obvious_ and
threatening to sue the university, I figured this is when the rubber hits the
road. And I remember being called down to a meeting with people from the
general counsel's office, Chris Patti, who_ and_ and others. And I remember
riding down the elevator, thinking, "This_ this is time to walk the plank," you
know? "This_ my little adventure is going to hit_ hit a wall." And that's not
at all what I was told. What I was told was, "This is what the University of
California is for. The university is here to bring the truth to people, to
write about things, to do scholarly research and will defend you." And they
did, and they did spectacularly well.
DANIEL SCHORR: University attorney Chris Patti argued, more boldly than
ABC, that the university had the right and the obligation to disseminate the
CHRIS PATTI: [California Superior Court] _claim that the
documents are privileged and they simply haven't demonstrated it and I think
that should_ I think that should end the inquiry on its own.
We tried to argue that because we were publishing these documents eventually
over the World Wide Web, that was our intention, that we were like a newspaper
and tried to analogize the university's position to a newspaper's position. So
I would have thought that a_ that a newspaper or any other media outlet would
have the same arguments that we would have had in our case.
DANIEL SCHORR: The California judge agreed with the university and soon
the library was scanning the 4,000 pages of Brown & Williamson documents
onto its World Wide Web site. Now they could be downloaded into computers
around the world.
INTERVIEWER: The New York Times, University of California in San
Francisco_ they both took the position, and I believe the university argued it,
that publication of this material was clearly covered by the 1st Amendment of
the Constitution, that this was a matter of grave public significance. I have
to ask why ABC News didn't take that same position.
PAUL FRIEDMAN: Lawyers disagree on all these issues. We got different
advice. We accepted that advice.
INTERVIEWER: Looking back on it, can you say that you fought those
lawyers with a sufficient amount of enthusiasm?
PAUL FRIEDMAN: Strikes me as a "Do you beat your wife" question. I think
we did make the case as strongly as we could.
DANIEL SCHORR: Meanwhile, ABC was marshalling its legal forces to
contest the $10 billion libel suit that Philip Morris had filed over the
original day1one reports about the manipulation of nicotine content.
In Charleston, Ron Motley, veteran of many legal battles with the tobacco
industry, felt confident that ABC was building a strong difference.
RON MOTLEY: Given the knowledge I now have from the various sources that
we've interviewed and the documents we have obtained, there's no basis for them
apologizing about anything they said about Philip Morris on that T.V.
DANIEL SCHORR: But ABC was worried about trying the case before a judge
and jury in Richmond, Virginia, where tobacco means jobs, so they came to test
their case here in Raleigh, North Carolina, a tobacco town like Richmond. Two
mock juries were assembled to hear the arguments for Philip Morris and for ABC
and the proceedings were videotaped.
1st MOCK TRIAL JUROR: They don't deny that there was an edit. All they
did was reword it. But_ and everything that they said is all it was to me, but
what I thought, it was just turned around and reworded, but it did not deny
that this_ this did not take place.
DANIEL SCHORR: The results were encouraging. Juror Clinton Stroman:
CLINTON STROMAN: I think_ well, we had 14 people and 3 people sided for
the tobacco company and the rest sided with day1one.
2nd MOCK TRIAL JUROR: Why were they sneaking around doing this? Well,
sneaking around doing that is what they're supposed to do_ they're supposed to
do for us.
DANIEL SCHORR: Juror Carlos Ector:
CARLOS ECTOR: Most of the people voted for ABC. Even some of the people
were die-hard smokers, they said even though they smoked, they still believed
that what the tobacco industry was doing was wrong. They were not going to stop
smoking, but they still believed they were wrong.
DANIEL SCHORR: After 16 months of preparation, ABC's lawyers moved to
dismiss the case, claiming that documents in their possession _ quote _
"eliminated any factual dispute as to whether Philip Morris adds significant
amounts of extraneous nicotine during the production of reconstituted tobacco.
But still preparing for trial, ABC attorneys asked the former surgeon general,
Dr. C. Everett Koop, to be their lead-off witness. Their letter said, "We are
as confident of victory as any prudent trial lawyers should be."
Then, just six days later, a bombshell.
DIANE SAWYER, ABC News: ["World News Tonight," August 21, 1995]
The $10 billion lawsuit filed against ABC News by Philip Morris and R.J.
Reynolds was settled this evening with a statement. ABC News agrees that we
should not have reported that Philip Morris and Reynolds add significant
amounts of nicotine from outside sources. That was a mistake that was not
deliberate on the part of ABC, but for which we accept responsibility and which
requires correction. We apologize to our audience, Philip Morris and
1st REPORTER: As apologies from news divisions go, this was a stunner.
2nd REPORTER: [NBC News Report] Today the tobacco giants gloated
in ABC's surrender, gleefully reprinting the company's apology in full-page ads
in several major newspapers.
INTERVIEWER: In view of the fact that you had the former surgeon general
of the United States in your corner, there had been mock jury trials which
upheld the network position, how do we account for the_ the willingness to_ to_
to sort of back down at a time when you seemed to have all the cards in your
PAUL FRIEDMAN: You've used the words "backed down." I don't_
INTERVIEWER: And I use the words_
PAUL FRIEDMAN: _accept them.
PAUL FRIEDMAN: I don't accept them. It's the policy of ABC News to
apologize when we make a mistake. We made a mistake. We also said that the
principal focus of that piece was to talk about whether cigarette companies
control the amount of nicotine in the cigarettes to keep people smoking and we
have not backed away from that central focus or from the people who did the
DANIEL SCHORR: But the advertising campaign by Philip Morris made ABC's
limited apology look like its total victory.
Theodore J. Markow, the trial judge, told FRONTLINE he was surprised by the
unexpected settlement of the long and hard-fought case.
RON MOTLEY: The reason they settled the case, as far as I'm concerned,
is very simple. It's clear as the big nose on my face. They_ they had a concern
about the jury, had a concern about the judge, but they thought they would
prevail eventually, four or five years down the line, in the U.S. Supreme
Court. That was a factor, but the overriding factor was the immediacy of the
takeover of ABC by Disney.
ABC ANOUNCER: From ABC this is "World News Tonight" with Peter
NBC REPORTER: [July 31, 1995] It's a merger of giants. Michael
Eisner, head of Disney, on the left and Thomas Murphy, head of Capitol
DANIEL SCHORR: Just three weeks before the settlement, ABC and Disney
had announced their $19 billion merger.
NBC REPORTER: Cap Cities chairman, Thomas Murphy, made $25 million.
DANIEL SCHORR: That day, Murphy was asked if the still-pending $10
billion lawsuit would affect the merger. He reportedly said it would be "taken
care of and resolved." Three weeks later, ABC settled.
INTERVIEWER: There is a clear public perception that there was a
connection between what was happening in the bigger corporate ownership picture
and what happened on the ground in the decision on the particular story.
PAUL FRIEDMAN: I can't let you get by with "there is a clear public
perception" that there was a linkage between corporate mergers and editorial
policy. I see no evidence of that. If you have some, I'd love to see it. As to
the second part of the question, which is "Was there?" To my knowledge, and I
was in on almost every meeting there was about this over the course of months,
the answer's no.
DANIEL SCHORR: ABC's dramatic settlement resounded from Wall Street to
52nd Street, where CBS was deeply involved in its own investigation of the
tobacco industry. "60 Minutes" producer Lowell Bergman and correspondent Mike
Wallace returned from Louisville with their long-sought interview with the
whistle blower from Brown & Williamson, Dr. Jeffrey Wigand.
JEFFREY WIGAND: ["60 Minutes"] I sent the document
forward to Sandefur. I was told that we would continue working on a substitute
DANIEL SCHORR: Wigand had devastating things to say about his former
MIKE WALLACE: ["60 Minutes"] In other words, what you're charging
Sandefur with, and Brown & Williamson with, is ignoring health
JEFFREY WIGAND: ["60 Minutes"] Most certainly.
LOWELL BERGMAN, Producer "60 Minutes": We were in the middle of
reporting the story where Mr. Wigand, at that point, was a confidential source,
where it wasn't clear we were going to broadcast the story, where we needed to
vet the story. So we're in a real preliminary stage, in many ways, and this
DANIEL SCHORR: What happened was_ just three weeks after the ABC
settlement, while he was still working on the Wigand story, Bergman was
summoned to a meeting at "Black Rock," CBS corporate headquarters, the home of
the corporate executives and the corporate lawyers.
LOWELL BERGMAN: We usually deal with two attorneys who have been there
for, oh, at least 20 years, who are the kinds of attorneys who want to help you
get your story on the air and, in many cases, they raise questions both from a
reporting point of view or a writing point of view that improves your story. In
this case, they_ informed me when I was passing through New York that their
boss was concerned about this story and I was summoned to Black Rock, which in
13 years that was the first time I'd ever been there.
DANIEL SCHORR: This would be the first of several meetings over the next
few weeks with a group of bosses and lawyers about Bergman's interview with Dr.
Wigand. Serious concerns were raised by CBS's chief corporate counsel, Ellen
Kaden. She told Bergman that he and Wallace may have illegally induced Wigand
to break his confidentiality agreement with Brown & Williamson_ in lawyer
language, "tortious interference."
LOWELL BERGMAN: Nobody had heard of "tortious interference." I mean, I
had a hard time spelling it, at first, you know? What's it mean? What are you
MIKE WALLACE: I'd heard about confidentiality agreements. Of course. And
they're fairly common_ trade secrets and things of that nature. You don't fool
around tampering with contracts. But_ but I'd never heard of "tortious
interference" in any press versus corporation undertaking. And the tortious
interference was, in effect, going after him to get him to tell the story.
DANIEL SCHORR: Going after Wigand, Kaden said, could expose CBS to legal
risks in the billions of dollars and even just talking to him was dangerous.
And the situation was complicated by the insistence of Wigand's lawyer that CBS
pay for his client's defense if airing the interview led to a lawsuit.
Victor Kovner is a New York media lawyer. We asked his opinion about the
position taken by Kaden and CBS outside counsel.
VICTOR KOVNER: I think that there is certainly merit to the view that
that relatively unusual circumstance of asking someone to indemnify a source
from their commitment of confidentiality, relieve them of their obligations_
that might well constitute tortious interference with contractual relations.
DANIEL SCHORR: But the CBS journalists believe that Kaden's position
would lead to unprecedented new restrictions.
LOWELL BERGMAN: Generally speaking, we know what the rules are and a new
rule had been created and a rule that said that there_ at least appeared to say
that there was a whole class of people, people who potentially had very
important information, from a journalism point of view, from a public point of
view, who couldn't be talked to.
MIKE WALLACE: Even after the first meetings, we hadn't finished the
reporting on this story. Lowell Bergman, the producer, was going to_ went to
Louisville, Kentucky, to spend some time with Wigand. And he got a call from
the lawyers here in New York, saying, "Don't_ get out of the house. Get out of
Wigand's house. You are to do no more reporting on this. None."
DANIEL SCHORR: The message that came very clearly from their legal
counsel was, "You got to stop this. Cut it off now. We are on very thin ice
VICTOR KOVNER: I'd have to say that was an overreaction, an extreme
DANIEL SCHORR: What CBS lawyers did not raise was the 1st Amendment
standard. That had been invoked in 1971 when The New York Times took
the advice of its general counsel, James Goodale, and published the top-secret
JAMES GOODALE, First Amendment Lawyer: Well, I think that CBS is very
much like the Pentagon Papers case. You ask yourself, "Does the 1st Amendment
protect the publication of the information that's the subject of our contract?"
And you then ask yourself, "Well, suppose that information that's subject to
our contract is in the public interest?" If it's in the public interest, then
the Constitution of the United States says, effectively, that type of
information ought to be published. Now, if the information is not in the public
interest_ suppose it's a trade secret about how I make Coca-Cola and you're an
employee_ well, that's a different matter. But if it's information that informs
the public, the 1st Amendment protects publication of that type of
MIKE WALLACE: What I did was, I talked to a number of other attorneys
who were very knowledgeable in this area. One or two of them said, "Yeah,
there's a very serious concern here." The majority of them said, "This would
never, never lead to the damages that you're talking about." Yeah, they might_
they might bring a lawsuit, but that's never stopped us from publishing a story
before, the threat of a lawsuit.
["60 Minutes", November 14, 1993] _in 25 years. And threats of
libel suits and libel suits_
MORLEY SAFER, CBS News: By the dozens.
MIKE WALLACE: Never lost one.
DANIEL SCHORR: At a 25th birthday party, "60 Minutes" celebrated its
"profile in courage" under the aegis of executive producer Don Hewitt.
DON HEWITT: ["60 Minutes", November 14, 1993] The
essential thing about me and Mike Wallace, that we are convinced we can lick
any kid in the house.
DANIEL SCHORR: But in the fall of 1995, in the case of Dr. Jeffrey
Wigand, Hewitt discovered that he could not lick the kids in his own corporate
house. In October, at the National Press Club in Washington, before anything
had been broadcast, Hewitt signalled his retreat.
DON HEWITT: But we've got a gun pointed at our head of $15 billion. So
we have a story that we think is solid. We don't think anybody could ever sue
us for libel. There are some twists and turns. And if you get in front of a
jury in some state where the_ all the people on that jury are related to people
who work in tobacco companies, look out. That's a $15 billion gun pointed at
your head. We may opt to get out of the line of fire. That doesn't make me
proud, but I_ I_ it's not my money. I don't have $15 billion. That's Larry
DANIEL SCHORR: "60 Minutes" would soon find itself lampooned on its own
1st ACTOR: ["Murphy Brown"] Now, if he goes on FYI and
reveals privileged information, it could be argued that you induced him into
breaking his contract.
MURPHY BROWN: We're going to kill an accurate story because we might be
sued? We've never done that before.
ACTRESS: Murphy, we can't take the risk. Look what happened with ABC and
Philip Morris. Now, our suggestion is you kill the story.
MURPHY BROWN: Oh!
ACTRESS: Our suggestion will allow the network to avoid a $15 billion
lawsuit that, if tried in a tobacco-friendly state, we will very likely lose.
2nd ACTOR: Murphy, I'm beginning to appreciate their suggestion.
MURPHY BROWN: Are you kidding?
2nd ACTOR: I have no choice. The network doesn't have $15 billion. I
don't have $15 billion. Does anybody here have $15 billion?
MIKE WALLACE: At the very first meeting, Ms. Kaden mentioned, in view of
what_ in view of the fact that Phil Morris had brought a $15 billion suit
against ABC and that ABC had, indeed, settled and apologized, that's going to
make it even more difficult for us.
LOWELL BERGMAN: It was communicated to me by one executive in the news
division that the corporation would not risk its assets on this story. I think
that's an accurate quote.
DANIEL SCHORR: That's Mr. Ober?
LOWELL BERGMAN: Right. Everyone else took their guidance from that,
since he was the president of the news division.
MIKE WALLACE: ["60 Minutes"] We learned of a tobacco
insider who might know the whole story, who could tell us whether or not the
tobacco industry has been leveling with the public.
DANIEL SCHORR: And so, on November 12th, Mike Wallace, the intrepid
broadcaster, broke new ground, telling 21 million Americans what he couldn't
MIKE WALLACE: ["60 Minutes"] Is your confidentiality
agreement with [deleted] still in force?
JEFFREY WIGAND: Yes, it is.
LOWELL BERGMAN: You know, I'm a veteran of the '60s and I remember one
day I turned to Don Hewitt and I said, "You know, it's been a long time since
I've had a psychedelic experience, but this might rival some of the ones I've
had in the past."
DANIEL SCHORR: Well, how did you express your frustration? It's your
reputation involved, so how did you carry on during those awful weeks?
MIKE WALLACE: Well, I was not about to throw the baby out with the bath
water, so to speak. I wasn't going to_ I finally decided I wasn't going to
DANIEL SCHORR: What's the baby and what's the bath water?
MIKE WALLACE: Well, I meant throw the piece away_
DANIEL SCHORR: Right.
MIKE WALLACE: _by leaving CBS. I had no intention of doing that because
I felt if I could stay inside CBS and little by little by little persuade Black
Rock, where, basically, the decision came from_
DANIEL SCHORR: You would have gone, except you had to save the piece?
MIKE WALLACE: I would like to say that I would have gone, if I_ except
to save the piece, but_ but it never really came down to that, Dan, in my mind.
In other words, I never said, "Wallace, this is a quitting_ either you quit or
you can't respect yourself ever again about this piece." It_ I_ it didn't_ that
did not occur to me.
DANIEL SCHORR: At CBS, the brake was applied to investigative reporting,
as it had been at ABC, just as the network itself was changing hands.
LAWRENCE TISCH: Today we announce the joining together of two
long-standing leaders in broadcast and media.
DANIEL SCHORR: Four days after the "60 Minutes" fiasco, CBS chairman
Lawrence Tisch would learn that the sale of the company to Westinghouse
Corporation had been approved. The deal was in progress even while CBS lawyers
were acting to avoid a multi-billion-dollar lawsuit.
MIKE WALLACE: It seems reasonable only to speculate that if the
Westinghouse people were planning to buy CBS, they would not want to buy a $10
billion to $15 billion lawsuit along with the rest of the company. Makes
DANIEL SCHORR: The sale of CBS was financially beneficial to the
network's top executives: almost a million and a half dollars in stock options
for news president Eric Ober, and for chief counsel Ellen Kaden, more than $1
million in stock options and $3.7 million more from a salary buy-out and other
MIKE WALLACE: I know her to be an honorable individual. Having said
that, if she's running _ and she was running _ the merger negotiations, I
think_ there was discussion perhaps_ among a bunch of us here that perhaps she
should recuse herself from handling this particular agenda, our agenda.
DANIEL SCHORR: She didn't do that.
MIKE WALLACE: No.
MARTIN FRANKS, Senior Vice President, CBS: I categorically reject any
notion that there are people here who are somehow manipulating the decisions of
this corporation for their own personal gain.
DANIEL SCHORR: We asked CBS for interviews with Ellen Kaden and the
other key executives involved in the "60 Minutes" decision, but were allowed to
speak only to senior vice president Martin Franks.
MARTIN FRANKS: If, indeed, the corporation were regularly stepping on
the news division_ those are not shy, retiring roses over there amongst your
colleagues. We would have heard from them at high volume in a number of
newspapers across America. The fact that we haven't seems to reinforce the
point I'm trying to make.
DANIEL SCHORR: It's, in fact, because it was so_ such a rarity_ the fact
that it's unique is why we're going into it.
MARTIN FRANKS: Yeah. If I was_
DANIEL SCHORR: We don't think it happens_
MARTIN FRANKS: If I was a baseball player_
DANIEL SCHORR: _every day.
MARTIN FRANKS: _and I could bat .999, I think I'd be pretty happy.
DANIEL SCHORR: Right, but if that last pitch came over and nobody
understands why you let it go past you_
MARTIN FRANKS: Well, it's not_
DANIEL SCHORR: _that interests people.
MARTIN FRANKS: It's not necessarily our obligation to make sure that
everybody understands why any decision is made in this company_ I mean, in the
sense that, I mean, some things by their very nature_ not necessarily this
case_ by their very nature, you're not at liberty to disclose everything that
LAWRENCE TISCH: Remember, we were number one for three years, up until
this past season.
DANIEL SCHORR: In a decade controlling CBS, Lawrence Tisch had revealed
himself to be more businessman than broadcaster.
WALTER CRONKITE: Mr. Tisch, for all of his other virtues, obviously came
to CBS and saw it as simply another firm, another company, another corporation,
to_ to_ in which profit was to be maximized and value was to be increased
toward a future sale. That was his entire approach to CBS and we saw the
results of that in a vast deterioration of programming and in the news
DANIEL SCHORR: For Lawrence Tisch, CBS was only one asset in a house of
many mansions. They include the Bulova watch company, a subsidiary of the huge
Loews Corporation, which also controls hotels, and a tobacco company called
ANDREW TISCH: Mr. Chairman, I'm Andrew H. Tisch, chairman and chief
executive officer of Lorillard Tobacco Company.
DANIEL SCHORR: His son, Andrew Tisch, was one of the tobacco executives
who testified before Congress. Like the others, he denied that nicotine is
addictive and also said he didn't believe cigarettes caused cancer.
ANDREW TISCH: We have looked at the data and the data that we have been
able to see has all been statistical data that has not convinced me that
smoking causes death.
DANIEL SCHORR: The Tisch family's tobacco interests _ among them popular
brands like Newport _ provide most of their profits, according to Wall Street
analyst Gary Black.
GARY BLACK: I don't think, you know, in the grand scheme of things, CBS
was never a big investment for the Tisch brothers. Lorillard has always been a
big investment. CNA, their insurance business, has always been a big
investment. Tobacco is, you know, probably 60, 70 percent of the profits.
DANIEL SCHORR: Last fall, while the Tisch family was selling CBS, their
tobacco company was busy buying six new cigarette brands from a competitor, the
Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corporation, whistle blower Jeffrey Wigand's
former employer. None of this was known at the time by the reporters at CBS.
MIKE WALLACE: Had no idea. And then a piece in The Wall Street
Journal _ not much of a piece _ let us know that, obviously, the Loews
Corporation, Lorillard, had been negotiating with Brown & Williamson all
during that time for the sale of those brands. And naturally, we said, "Is it
conceivable that the lawyers from Brown & Williamson, who were talking
about the possibility of"_ although they hadn't threatened the suit_ "talking
about the possibility of a suit against CBS News or against CBS_ they didn't
know what the lawyers were doing with the Loews Corporation and Lorillard
Tobacco?" It beggars belief.
LOWELL BERGMAN: I think that we were deceived and lied to. I think that
more is going on here than we even know now, unfortunately.
DANIEL SCHORR: Will we ever know for sure?
LOWELL BERGMAN: I don't know. Do you ever know anything for sure?
DANIEL SCHORR: January 26th, 1996_ The Wall Street Journal broke
the story that ""60 Minutes" had suppressed. From a Mississippi court case, the
paper obtained secret testimony from Dr. Wigand that paralleled his "60
Minutes" interview. And nine days later "60 Minutes" finally ran that
MIKE WALLACE: ["60 Minutes"] Which is true, what the tobacco men
at Brown & Williamson say about their former research director, Dr. Jeffrey
TOBACCO EXECUTIVE: His life has been a pattern of lies.
MIKE WALLACE: Tonight, Jeffrey Wigand, the scientist whose insistence on
defying his former employer has led him to tell what he believes to be the
truth about cigarettes. What is it that he believes to be the truth about
cigarettes? And what is it that Brown & Williamson believes to be the truth
DANIEL SCHORR: We joined Dr. Wigand in Louisville to watch the
broadcast, a story about the tobacco business and about the campaign by his
former employer to destroy his credibility.
MIKE WALLACE: ["60 Minutes"] Beyond that, they charged him with a
multitude of sins, from fudging his resume to making a false claim three years
ago for $95.20 for dry cleaning.
DANIEL SCHORR: Charges The Wall Street Journal had
MIKE WALLACE: ["60 Minutes"] A close look at the file and
independent research by this newspaper into its key claims indicates that many
of the serious allegations against Dr. Wigand are backed by scanty or
DANIEL SCHORR: Well, what do you think?
JEFFREY WIGAND: Interesting reliving it. If one looks today at what
aired on "60 Minutes", I think they probably took the course of least
resistance this time. I have to be honest with you. If it wasn't for the
Wall Street Journal article I guess two weeks ago, I'm not so sure we
would have seen it aired tonight.
DANIEL SCHORR: The "60 Minutes" story was not the end of Jeffrey
Wigand's story. His life had been turned upside down. He was now a major
witness in suits against tobacco companies across the country and he is
followed every day by bodyguards paid for, ironically, by CBS. His marriage has
disintegrated under the stress. He now lives in a few half-empty rooms in a
JEFFREY WIGAND: Up to now, I thought I always had a sanctuary to go back
and have some environment where I could kind of unwind or feel safe or talk
about_ I don't have that now.
DANIEL SCHORR: Once he lived here, a $300,000-a-year tobacco executive.
Now the former head of research for Brown & Williamson spends his evenings
grading high school science students.
JEFFREY WIGAND: It's been tough. Is it going to continue to be tough?
Yeah, I think so. Do I have the mental resolve to continue? Yeah, I think I
RON MOTLEY, Attorney: They have beleaguered him, slandered him and done
everything they can to shut him up. He's still standing. He's still talking.
He's still telling the truth. That is a beacon light for others like him. And I
can only tell you that we get dozens of phone calls every week and people are
coming out of the closets left and right to tell us what they know about the
truth about tobacco.
DAN RATHER, CBS News: ["CBS Evening News"] The whistle blows
again_ new accusations against the tobacco industry tonight from another former
insider who talks exclusively with Mike Wallace.
FORMER TOBACCO COMPANY EMPLOYEE: There was nothing that I was aware of
that wasn't known just by the local scientific community but was known by
DANIEL SCHORR: Those who have followed Wigand have found the networks
suddenly a lot more courageous.
SAM DONALDSON, ABC News: ["PrimeTime Live"] Tonight, a major new
piece in the tobacco puzzle. Did Philip Morris try to hide what it knew about
nicotine and addiction?
EXPERT: It's just a cover-up that's unbelievable.
DANIEL SCHORR: For ABC News, it's a chance to show it is back in the
PAUL FRIEDMAN, Executive Vice President, ABC News: Look, in all of your
questions there is this assumption that there's a huge chill over the
news-gathering industry, that no one is pursuing issues of tobacco and health
or, more specifically, if you wish, that ABC News is not pursuing issues of
tobacco and health. And that is simply not true. I cannot allow you to continue
to kind to base these questions on this perception that you have that there's a
chill. There's no chill.
DANIEL SCHORR: As television works to redeem its reputation, the
original whistle blower reflects on what he went through before his whistle was
finally heard. In the battle for the public interest, the victory doesn't stay
won for long and those who've been through the experience are not sanguine
about the future.
JEFFREY WIGAND: Well, corporate America can be very powerful. I think,
if you look back on the last year's events, the whole capitulation of ABC with
the Philip Morris is_ is the power of corporate America. That, I think, set the
stage a little bit of intimidation factor. I think CBS had that in the back of
their mind at the same time, too, this $15 billion suit that's just been
resolved by an apology, plus some financial compensation associated with legal
fees. Is there intimidation? Yeah.
WALTER CRONKITE: You know, the journalistic courage takes a lot of
forms, a lot of forms. And one of the important forms it takes is in the_ in
the corporate environment. And unfortunately, there is_ there are few people in
that corporate environment _ virtually none who I can cite on any network _
that have any background or journalistic ethics or journalistic principles or
DANIEL SCHORR: And that thing you call "corporate courage" _ "corporate
guts," I would call it _ do you see it coming back soon?
WALTER CRONKITE: Well, no, quite frankly, I don't see any_ any hint of
it on the horizon. Where would you find it? I don't know where it might be.
DANIEL SCHORR: The next generation_ we don't want to get lost in details
and now you come and you say, "Okay, now that you've shown it, it's been been a
half-hour show, an hour show, now let me tell you what is really involved here,
what you should know about it."
MIKE WALLACE: What you should know is that the press frequently gets
involved in adversary procedures against big business, against the government,
sometimes against individuals. And if your reporting is accurate and if your
research is thorough, then you would hope that you would have management of a
news division_ they may be in the entertainment business over here and they may
be in another business over there and_ but they would_ the hope would be that
no matter who owns the network or who owns the paper, they'll have the courage
and the sense of obligation to let the truth be told.
DANIEL SCHORR: You very carefully said "the hope." The confidence?
MIKE WALLACE: The hope.
ANNOUNCER: Visit FRONTLINE on the web at pbs.org. You've seen our
documentary, now click into FRONTLINE's Webumentary. An internet voyage
through three decades of the tobacco industry's top secrets. In addition to
this special report, check our interviews with Walter Cronkite and other media
analysts. It's all here at FRONTLINE online at pbs.org. And now for your
letters. Our program, "Murder on Abortion Row," drew hundreds of responses,
most of them positive, but these viewers were critical of it.
TIMOTHY SHEEHAN: [Hopkinton, MA] Dear FRONTLINE: Isn't "Murder on
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cemetery"? Those of us that are pro-life do not think it news that murder
occurs on "abortion row". In fact, we believe it happens every day, about 30
million since 1970. Sincerely, Tim Sheehan, Hopkinton, MA.
JACQUE SMITH: [San Francisco, CA] Dear FRONTLINE: Rather than
present John Salvi as pretext for the real human tragedy of a double murder, a
more thoughtful account would have discussed the prevalence of mental illness
and the necessity of intervention. As a consequence of ignorance,
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Murray Darrach, Pasadena, CA.
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The critically acclaimed movie Dead Man Walking told her story: a nun
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"Angel on Death Row" next time on FRONTLINE.
LOWELL BERGMAN: I think that we were deceived and lied to. I think
that more is going on here than we even know now.
Daniel Schorr and
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