20. ABC Spikes New Tobacco Expose' When Sued for
Source: THE VILLAGE VOICE Date: 9/12/95; "Up In Smoke" Author:
SYNOPSIS: In 1993, ABC's "Turning Point" hired Frank
and Martin Koughan, an Emmy Award-winning documentary team, to do a
broad survey of the tobacco merchants' annus horribilis that followed
the Environmental Protection Agency's classification of secondhand smoke
as a carcinogen, and the Clinton Administration's proposal to support
health care reform by heavily taxing cigarettes.
The final cut, reported by ABC's Meredith Vieira, was a tough, well-narrated
takeout on the business responsible for the nation's largest health
problem. It focused on the marketing and manufacturing of tobacco products
here and abroad, and broke some new ground.
Martin Koughan said the film was passed on and approved by ABC's editorial
and law departments," and was scheduled to run in late March or
early April 1994.
It didn't. On March 24, Koughan said he got a call from "Turning
Point" senior (now executive) producer Betsy West, who told him
that he was going to have to "rework" the film.
Coincidentally, March 24 also was the day that Phillip Morris filed
a $10 billion libel suit against Capital Cities/ABC for two "Day
One" reports on tobacco-doctoring (which prompted the network to
cough up an abject apology in August 1995).
What happened next is in dispute. Koughan says there was a dispute
about meeting schedules and that ABC never showed up for a planned session
to discuss revisions. West says that Koughan "was absolutely uncooperative
in making the story better" adding that ABC executives had never
signed off on the show. West also swears, "I know this suit is
not the reason it didn't air." Paul Friedman, ABC's executive vice
president, also said the lawsuit "didn't even enter my mind"
when he killed the segment.
Eventually, Koughan was told that the film would not be used. In a
settlement agreement, his production company was paid for its work,
but ABC owns all rights to the film. Thus, although ABC has spent some
$500,000 on the project, the network has no plans to air it, nor can
it be broadcast anywhere else.
There are at least two segments of "Tobacco Under Fire" that
would have been network scoops. One details how the American tobacco
industry is moving production overseas. The documentary claims that
American tobacco companies are developing and distributing seeds to
be grown in Brazil, Malawi, Guatemala, and Argentina, where tobacco
farming costs about half of what it costs here, and where, unlike Kentucky
or the Carolinas, there are no regulations about acreage, volume, or
pricing. The film predicts that this shift will ultimately undermine
American tobacco farmers, who are some of the industry's most powerful
Second, the film claims that during the Reagan and Bush Administrations,
the U.S. Trade Representative's office spent an inordinate amount of
time threatening trade sanctions against Asian countries that had stalled
at letting American tobacco companies advertise. This extraordinary
charge came from Reagan's own surgeon general C. Everett Koop, who said
"If these trade policies were known right now, they'd be condemned
by the American people."
Unfortunately, most Americans will not hear about the trade policies
or the other tobacco company transgressions because ABC censored the
SSU Censored Researcher: Stephanie Horner
COMMENTS: Investigative author James Ledbetter said the "subject
received precious little attentionit was covered in the New York Daily
News in 1994 and the Washington Post in passing. I believe, however,
I am the only one who wrote about the actual content of "The Turning
Ledbetter feels the public would benefit from greater exposure of this
issue since "It would gain insight into the realities of tobacco's
aggressive overseas marketing; and it points out how difficult it is
for network television to criticize tobacco companies."
Those who benefit from the lack of media coverage given this issue,
according to Ledbetter, include, "tobacco companies, ABC executives,
and the Bush Administration."
Ledbetter concluded, "Obviously, in light of the canned '60 Minutes'
story, it is one more chapter in the sorry recent history of networks
caving in to powerful interests."