A confidential Philip Morris document from the mid-1990s named Malcolm Gladwell as one of the tobacco industry’s top covert media assets. This roster of “Third Party Advocates” was a who’s who list of known corporate shills, including Bush press secretary/Fox News anchor Tony Snow, Grover Norquist, Milton Friedman and Ed Feulner, head of the Heritage Foundation. In journalism terms, a “Third Party Advocate” means “fraud.”
Good job by the Trib: doing actual journalism, getting results.
Since the Tribune published its “Playing With Fire” series, momentum has been building for stricter oversight of flame retardants and other toxic chemicals.
The newspaper’s investigation documented a deceptive campaign by industry that distorted science, created a phony consumer watchdog group to stoke the fear of fire and organized an association of top fire officials to advocate for greater use of flame retardants in furniture and electronics.
Promoted as lifesavers, flame retardants added to furniture cushions actually provide no meaningful protection from fires, according to federal researchers and independent scientists. Some of the most widely used chemicals are linked to cancer, neurological deficits, developmental problems and impaired fertility.
“Your series was an eye-opener,” said Joseph Erdman, legislative director for the New York Senate Committee on Environmental Conservation. “We hope other people around the state and nation read it.”
The committee has revived legislation targeting a chemical known as chlorinated tris, or TDCPP, that was voluntarily taken out of children’s pajamas more than three decades ago after studies found it could cause cancer. Recent tests have found that chlorinated tris now is commonly added to strollers, highchairs, rockers, diaper-changing pads and other baby products.
Wouldn’t this be funny, if the tobacco giants suddenly had to cough up $280,000,000,000? Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations sounds like an apt description of Altria and others, actually. Their business model was always pretty obvious: convince consumers that cigarettes weren’t all that bad for you, and especially that Brand A was better than Brand B.
The Justice Department asked the Supreme Court on Friday to review a 2006 federal fraud racketeering conviction against the tobacco industry and to authorize the district judge in the case to require tobacco companies to give up as much as $280 billion in “ill-gotten gains.”
In the 2006 decision, nine tobacco companies and two trade organizations were found to have deceived the public about the dangers of secondhand smoke and so-called light cigarettes, and to have manipulated the nicotine levels in cigarettes.
The companies “have marketed and sold their lethal product with zeal, with deception, with a single-minded focus on their financial success and without regard for the human tragedy or social costs,” Judge Gladys Kessler, of the Federal District Court in Washington, wrote in a 1,653-page opinion after a nine-month trial.
The case was filed by the Clinton administration in 1999 under a civil statute normally used for organized crime.
Although the industry lost the case, it avoided crippling monetary damages. Judge Kessler had originally agreed to consider requiring the tobacco companies to give up profits if they lost the case, but she was overruled after the industry filed a pretrial motion with an appeals court.