frontlinesmoke in the eye

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What kind of message was sent by CBS's and ABC's decisions to not broadcast exposes on the tobacco industry?



Dear FRONTLINE,

Have you thought about investigating the book "Kiss The Boys Goodbye" by former 60 minutes producer Monica Stevens [I believe]? The book deals with the theory that the U.S. government hindered efforts to free Viet Nam POW's and MIA's because it didn't want the public to know of their possible support of the Hmong opium trade.

This story might be worthy of review by Lowell Bergman. Most people are ignorant of it. Monica Stevens indicated in her book that Don Hewitt of 60 minutes was reluctant to air the story, and presented a lot of evidence to support the theory of a U.S. government coverup. Keep up your good work,

Anthony Lorts
lk. orion, mi


Dear FRONTLINE,

In response to the question--CBS and ABC basically validated a double-standard; it's OK to put someone else's life on the line, just not your own. I don't believe that's the kind of thinking which made America great - it's what hurts America today. People are more interested in convenient truth, than actual truth. Compromise has a place, but not where integrity must be sacrificed in order to accomodate it. I congratulate Mr. Bergman.

agoura hills, ca


Dear FRONTLINE,

When CBS and ABC chose not to air Wigand's interview because of "tortious interference," it was as though someone cracked journalism across the back of the knees with a baseball bat -- one low blow.

As a former newspaper journalist, I've seen that kind of corporate buckling to litigation pressure before, and I find it galling. The media has become far too sensitive to the possibilities of being sued. It used to be that the truth offered a cloak of protection, but that doesn't seem to be the case anymore.

I realize parts of "The Insider" were fictionalized, but if even half the things it depicts Lowell Bergman as having said and done are true, then my hat goes off to him. There are few, if any, journalists of his ilk left in the profession these days.

Karla Dial
la quinta, ca


Dear FRONTLINE,

Its obvious that as long as the mainstream media insists on being tied to other big conglomerates, there will be no such thing as unbiased reporting.

News media should be a separate entity from entertainment media in order to maintain the integrity of journalism.

Antonia Betrus
seneca falls , new york


Dear FRONTLINE,

First, I believe at least 65 percent of the American people are media illiterate. The general public would rather be controlled by what I call "idiot TV."

The message sent to the few who decided to view the Frontline episode, rather than watch "idiot TV," was plain and simple. "Money talks, good journalism walks!" I get so sick and tired of watching news executives lie just to save their corporate ass. V.P. Paul Friedman of ABC (as well as CBS execs.)is a weak-kneed individual who kowtowed to the threats from the tobacco industry.

The press, the media is out of control. The press does not serve the public interest anymore. Our forefathers' intended "freedom of the press" clause of the constitution isn't what it's supposed to be.

In today's reality, freedom of the press only exists, just so long as a large corporation doesn't threaten a law-suit against the media organization about to uncover wrong doing.

Dan Murphy
camarillo, ca


Dear FRONTLINE,

Strictly speaking, the networks sent no message at all, in that they merely acted as barometers of the pressure coming from their corporate parents. And because classic corporate behavior - ultimately only performed by individuals - is without conscience or heroism, no human message ends up being sent other than "Get out of the way of a large interest with power." This is the impersonal "message" of the hurricane, earthquake or strong-arm man.

Ironically enough, however, the whole affair unintentionally does send another, and stirring, message: just as there are many company men who succumb - some all too willingly - to such pressure, there are also individuals such as Wigand, Schorr and, it may be, Bergman, who have the fortitude to fight it.

Steve Sklar
millburn, nj


Dear FRONTLINE,

Here is one of the great news programs in American journalism crumbling to the pressures of the sponsors which cover the paychecks of reporters. This adds further to the cynicism I have towards Network news, which already runs stories for ratings and now also for the benefits of their owners. What do Americans expect anyway when we accept Oliver Stone's version of history in JFK, and thrive on the "newsworthyness" of the OJ Simpson trial?

Andre Keil
culver city, ca


Dear FRONTLINE,

Media's problem is corporate ownership and the conficting interests they have. Problems which can't be solved until two things are done. One is owners find it within their hearts to free media from there ajoining corporate endeavers.

Two, government has to make choices for freedom of speech and the press instead of bowing to corporate interests.

larry blake
detroit, michigan


Dear FRONTLINE,

Gail Love from Pasadena wrote "I disagree strongly with the ABC VP who says the "company" is not compelled to discuss its decisions with the public." While I share her sentiment, I thought it was the CBS VP Mr. Franks who made that comment.

In contrast, I found the ABC executive's handling of the questions (e.g., often prefaced by phrases such as "I don't accept that ...") quite satisfactory and fair. I believed him when he said ABC decided to listen to the lawyers for whose advice ABC pays. Further, I believed him when he said "There is no chill on the news" (or words to that effect). That ABC apologized for a particular mistake in reporting is not "caving" to the tobacco industry. At least ABC had the guts to report something that brought the suit to begin with; CBS did not.

Personally, I found "Smoke in the Eye" very eye-opening. While I feel smokers are responsible for their behavior, and previously would not have sympathized much with plaintiffs against the tobacco companies, I now feel differently. The tobacco companies' legal tactics for keeping whistle-blowers' mouths shut will cost this industry a lot, I predict.

Donna Hanlon
st. louis, mo


Dear FRONTLINE,

If a news item such as the tobacco story can be supressed, I am terrified at what else is being supressed. I always believed that a story uncovering a massive coverup would be a jewel in the crown of the media outlet that broke the story (i.e. CBS and McCarthy, the muckrakers in the beginning of this century). The tobacco companies do not even own the media outlets and can keep a story from airing. What aren't we learning because General Electric owns NBC, or because Disney owns ABC. When corporations such as these own the means of gathering and broadcasting information, I don't see how conflicts of interest won't arise and I don't see how American citizens won't be hurt by this.

Alex Read
toledo, ohio


Dear FRONTLINE,

Although I enjoyed this program and believes it is a fair story, I have objections to the commercial aspect of its producers. This is a PBS program that has been produced by the producer of the movie The Insider which is of the same subject. It begins with public announcement that this commercial movie will start on "Friday, November 5". This conflicts with the purpose of the PBS, and its independence from commercial agendas since entirety of this program has been produced by and for this commercial agenda, which is to promote the upcoming hollywood film.

Jun Iida
detroit, mi


Dear FRONTLINE,

Fascinating story. This is an ideal text for teaching young people to think critically when dealing with corporate media, as well as a profile in courage and integrity on the part of Dr. Wigand.

I wondered, though, whether Dr. Wigand's current employers are concerned by his presence in a classroom. When a teacher has had death threats made against him, especially in today's paranoid school atmosphere, I would have expected administrators to chose not to expose themselves to the liability of having a marked man as a teacher. It's amazing to me that the school district allowed him to continue teaching. It would appear that his school has more courage and integrity than CBS did in dealing with his story.

In any case, I admire his courage for speaking up, and am glad he is able to contribute to the education of our youth.

Teri Hu
fremont, ca


Dear FRONTLINE,

The effect of big business money is greater than the power politic as evidenced in the failure to supress watergate. The arrogance of the ciagareete monopolies to buy more and control more while suppressing the truth at the expense of the press and the american citizenry is appalling if not galling!

But thank God eventually the truth was told through none other than the press.

bill hach
brooklyn, ny


Dear FRONTLINE,

Money talks. One wonders whether it did so beyond the intimidation of a possible, massive suit. Is it possible that the CBS attorneys were bribed? Even if they felt compelled to silence 60 minutes, to protect CBS,- they didn't have to strip and confiscate all the material in possession of the program.

And what about the tobacco executives who loudly and clearly perjured themselves before Congress? Are they not going to be indicted?

There should be legislation to ensure that venue for civil suit of the sort threatened, should exclude any state in which the self-interest of the populace might be expected to result in a partial jury.

Martin Griffith
buzzards bay, ma


Dear FRONTLINE,

The message was loud and clear--corporate interests take precedence over public interests. I disagree strongly with the ABC VP who says the "company" is not compelled to discuss its decisions with the public. That may be true for Disney's other interests, but it is NOT TRUE when Disney is responsible for national news broadcast by one of the country's top media outlets. I have always found the tobacco industry to be devious, greedy and quick to lie. How terrifying that our news media is now CONTROLLED by the same mindset. How very disturbing to see men the age of Schoer and Cronkite discussing whether there is a future for journalistic ethics in this country! I'm afraid there was during the time of these two, but now I wonder if an MBA, or worse, a corporate lawyer, will become the gatekeeper for national news! Worse, I think Edward R. Murrow must be turning over in his grave--how sad to recall that it was Murrow and CBS who had the courage to stand up to blacklisting and Senator McCarthy. Who will do that now????

Gail Love
pasadena, california


Dear FRONTLINE,

Mike Wallace's "hope" that corporate management will back reporters if they are thorough, etc, is hogwash! Management's only purpose is to make money for itself and for stockholders. It gives lip-service to wider responsibilities as required to avoid adverse legislation. Thus we have, for example, corporate sponsors for "public" television who profess the noblest purposes while polluting, seeking tax advantages, exporting jobs, and genetically altering our food supply.

Alvin D. Hofer
gainesville, fl

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