Backtalk

Our May/June special report on tobacco lit a few fires. Readers quit smoking, independent filmmakers cheered (while ABC kept mum), and a muckraker got the credit he’s due. Also: A veteran corrected Dole’s military record; Clinton’s pastor came under attack; and film fans chose the best of the past.

DOLE’S REAL WAR RECORD

The press has missed the story of how Bob Dole deliberately avoided combat service in World War II until weeks before the end of the war.

The Dole home page on the World Wide Web says: “In 1942 at the age of 19, Bob Dole answered the call to serve his country by joining the Army to fight World War II. He became a second lieutenant in the Army’s 10th Mountain Division, and in the spring of 1943, found himself in the hills of Italy fighting the Nazi Germans.”

In December of 1942, Bob Dole signed up for the Army Reserve, a maneuver that allowed him to complete his sophomore year at the University of Kansas.

In the spring of 1943, Bob Dole was still happily ensconced at his frat house at KU. After his 1943 induction, he attended a variety of stateside military training that kept him from duty overseas until late December 1944. He didn’t join the 10th Mountain Division until February 1945 — at the advanced age of 21 years plus 7 months. On April 14 he was grievously wounded. Sixteen days later, Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun died in a double suicide.

As a typical World War II combat veteran who signed up and faced the enemy while still 18, I think it’s a travesty to see the press swallow the Dole service story hook, line, and sinker.

PETER G. WEINBERG
FORMER CPL., 503 PARACHUTE COMBAT TEAM
STAMFORD, CONN.

The Articles Discussed:

Tobacco Strikes Back
Our extensive May/June report on the tobacco industry and its political ties.

Dizzy
Eric Alterman’s account of the Washington PR machine.

Keeping Faith
Religious leaders are working to restore mercy, compassion, and justice to the national vocabulary — and getting smeared by the Christian right for doing so.

The Big Picture
Roger Ebert and John Sayles list their top 20 films of the past 20 years.

TWO SIDES, TOO SIMPLE

While your special issue on tobacco (“Tobacco Strikes Back,” May/June) contained worthwhile information, it unfortunately suffers from the same type of “Us” and “Them” mentality all too common on both sides of this issue. Being a critic of [FDA Commissioner] David Kessler does not automatically mean you are a tool of the tobacco lobby, any more than speaking out against the special treatment accorded the tobacco industry by Congress makes one an opponent of deregulation or tort reform.

The truth is that both Democrats and Republicans have had their judgment warped by tobacco’s political influence for the last 30 years, most notably when a Democrat-controlled Congress mandated the “warning label,” knowing full well that this meaningless caveat would provide the tobacco companies with “an impenetrable shield against liability,” as Richard Kluger noted in his recent book Ashes to Ashes. Until this is changed — unlikely no matter who controls the next Congress — any actions to “regulate” tobacco will be a failure.

DR. ELIZABETH M. WHELAN, PRESIDENT
AMERICAN COUNCIL ON SCIENCE AND HEALTH
NEW YORK, N.Y.

IN TOBACCO’S POCKET

Your recent article, Tobacco Dole,” sets a new standard for shoddy journalism. The article includes me at the head of a list of “tobacco lobbyists, lawyers, and pollsters working for the Dole team.” The fact is that I do not lobby for any tobacco interests, and a simple check of my past and present public lobbying registrations would have confirmed that fact. I have never had any conversation with Dole about tobacco matters. The suggestion that “Big Tobacco” somehow has access to Dole or his presidential campaign because of my involvement in the campaign is without any foundation and is a product of the “guilt by association” school of lazy journalism. The fact that I am a member of a 300-lawyer firm that has tobacco clients no more demonstrates “Big Tobacco’s” influence on Dole than the fact that former members of my firm serve in prominent roles in the Clinton administration proves “Big Tobacco’s” influence on Clinton.

Rather than trying to invent some “Big Tobacco” conspiracy, perhaps a little old-fashioned reporting would be in order.

RODERICK A. DEARMENT
COVINGTON & BURLING
WASHINGTON, D.C.

The editors respond: Mother Jones never suggested that Roderick DeArment lobbies on behalf of the tobacco industry. We did point out that he is one of many Dole advisers whose financial interests are closely linked to the tobacco industry’s. His firm, Covington & Burling, is not merely a “firm that has tobacco clients,” but rather the tobacco industry’s top Washington law firm, representing Philip Morris, R.J. Reynolds, Lorillard, Brown & Williamson, and The Tobacco Institute. (DeArment refuses to disclose what fraction of the firm’s total billings — and what portion of his own compensation as a partner — comes from tobacco.)

Nor does Covington & Burling limit itself to representing tobacco in court. The firm spent more than $1 million in Philip Morris money to fund Healthy Buildings, a magazine that used phony science to argue against indoor smoking bans. Covington & Burling also commissioned a dubious 1996 study that claims federal tobacco restrictions could cost the nation 92,000 jobs. Finally, as we reported in our last issue (“Our Good Friend, the Governor”), Covington & Burling assembled a team of lawyers that traveled around the country, pressuring state attorneys general not to take legal action against the tobacco industry.

ABC UNDER FIRE

I was honored to see the script of “Tobacco Under Fire” (“Censored: The Leaked ABC Tape,”) published in Mother Jones. My partner and I produced that hour nearly three years ago for ABC News. We have never understood why ABC — after spending more than half a million dollars to acquire the footage — never broadcast our videotape.

ABC’s response to your publication of our transcript was to attack us personally and denigrate our work. They called it “boring” and a “rehash” that was “not up to the standards of ABC News.”

Since I produce documentaries and not sitcoms or game shows, my work has been called “boring” on occasion. I like to believe that may be related to the weight of the information within.

“Rehash” is a more serious matter. ABC News executive Paul Friedman has stated that our program contained “nothing new, nothing investigative.” Everything in it, he said, had already been reported by ABC News.

The charge is not just professional libel, it is an act of shocking cowardice. Mr. Friedman wants us to believe that his network’s failure to broadcast newsworthy material is really the fault of our production company.

There are numerous sequences in the program that have still never aired on ABC News or any other network. To mention a few: testimony by Dr. C. Everett Koop on the Reagan administration’s role in forcing open Asian markets for American cigarettes; evidence that tobacco strains developed with U.S. tax dollars are being cultivated overseas as a low-cost replacement for American crops; hidden camera footage of tobacco industry representatives explaining how to market to young smokers.

Most galling, however, is the comment that our documentary “was not up to the standards of ABC News.” At the time the tobacco hour was killed, the programs Mr. Friedman felt were more interesting to his network’s viewers included a lengthy news interview with Charles Manson (still a psychopath), an investigation into the lives of sextuplets (the twos can apparently be terrible), and a grisly look at a killer of college coeds (enough said).

My work not “up” to ABC News standards? Well, I most certainly hope not.

MARTIN KOUGHAN
MQN PRODUCTIONS INC.
BETHSEDA, MD.

[Editor’s note: ABC Executive Vice President Paul Friedman declined to respond to both the Mother Jones article and to Martin Koughan’s subsequent letter.]

FLOODED BY TOBACCO

From Asia, we view the crumbling of the tobacco citadel in the United States with astonishment — tobacco industry scientists breaking ranks, criminal investigations in progress, almost daily reports of yet more wrongdoings. It is as if that little boy in Holland has taken his finger out of the dike, and the water is unstoppable.

But the transnational tobacco industry is putting on a brave face, publicly at least, claiming these events will have no impact outside the United States.

And why should they worry? They point to predicted cigarette sales increases of 13 percent in Asia during this decade; rapidly expanding populations who can afford American cigarettes; more girls taking up the habit — in other words, a huge and growing pool of potential smokers. What do a few hiccups matter in the United States? It wouldn’t matter if every smoker in the United States quit tomorrow if American tobacco companies could capture the Asian market.

These companies have penetrated developing markets with considerable assistance from U.S. presidents and the trade wing of the U.S. government and its embassies. They confuse Third World governments by denying the health evidence; they introduce expensive advertising (unlike the national monopolies); and they challenge national tobacco control efforts, including threatening governments with legal action. It is easy to see why health concerns are failing to stem the tobacco tide in developing countries.

At least things eased off somewhat under the Clinton administration. Thus, we view with trepidation the possibility of a return to the bad old days of overt presidential support for the vested interests of the tobacco industry.

DR. JUDITH MACKAY, DIRECTOR
ASIAN CONSULTANCY ON TOBACCO CONTROL
KOWLOON, HONG KONG

ABORTION SOLUTION

When my research showed that tobacco induces up to 141,000 spontaneous abortions (miscarriages) among American women each year (“Sin of Omission,” I thought the religious organizations concerned about the unborn would turn their wrath on the tobacco companies and the politicians who protect them.

I mailed a summary of my research to more than 50 right-to-life organizations. I was bewildered that I did not receive a single reply. Nor, to my knowledge, did the leaders of these groups pass this information on to their members.

I now understand their silence. These groups feel that the fetus’ right to life is more important than the mother’s right to choose, but the unborn’s rights are not as important as the right of these groups to accept huge sums of money from tobacco companies in exchange for their silence. Perhaps the whole abortion debate could be settled with one large cash payment.

DR. JOSEPH R. DIFRANZA
UNIVERSITY OF MASSACHUSETTS MEDICAL CENTER
WORCESTER, MASS.

EARLY TOBACCO CRITIC

There is a glaring omission in “The Tobacco Wars” timeline, one also made by author Richard Kluger in Ashes to Ashes: Most people don’t know that George Seldes, the grand old man of muckraking journalism, who died last year at age 104, deserves to be recognized as one of the earliest debunkers of the tobacco industry.

The first major report that linked cigarette smoking to premature death came out in 1938. You would think this would have been big news. Instead, the media ignored it. The fear of losing cigarette advertising was clearly the reason why.

Seldes took up the anti-tobacco cause when he started his own newsletter in 1940. “For 10 years, we pounded on tobacco as one of the only legal poisons you could buy in America,” he told me in 1992. Of all the stories in his more than 80 years as an author and reporter, he said breaking the news on the hazards of tobacco was the most important and most beneficial.

RANDOLPH T. HOLHUT, EDITOR
THE GEORGE SELDES READER
PUTNEY, VT.

TAXES FOR HEALTH

The tobacco industry’s agreement with the California Medical Association to divert money from the cigarette tax to health costs (“The War in the States,” is the only reason my wife and I can afford any health insurance.

Even though $73 million is diverted from the anti-smoking tax, my wife and I, aged 63 and 62 respectively, still must pay money we can barely afford each month for insurance. Tobacco tax diversion pays much of the cost of many long-term prescriptions for high-risk people in our low-income group.

If you must fight to defeat the diversion of the tax toward health care, also fight to boost taxes enough to pay our health care.

JOHN MIHALAROS
OAKLAND, CALIF.

WHO’S COME A LONG WAY?

As Saul Alinsky said, power comes in two forms — money and people. The tobacco industry has the money to promote its deadly product with glamorous advertising, to silence the media, and to buy politicians. Only citizen activism can stop this assault on public health.

We must also recognize the abusive power of the tobacco industry as an important feminist issue. The tobacco industry directly targets girls and women, offering cigarettes as a way to both control our weight and demonstrate our liberation (“Slim ‘n’ Sassy” as the ad slogan tells us).

As an ex-smoker who bought this message along with my first pack of cigarettes when I was 13, I know that addiction is not liberation — it is enslavement.

JEAN KILBOURNE, FILMMAKER
KILLING US SOFTLY:
ADVERTISING’S INAGE OF WOMEN

WEST NEWTON, MASS.

MAD ENOUGH TO QUIT

Your special issue did the trick — I quit smoking. It’s been two weeks and I’ll make it! I can no longer buy a product that contributes so much money to the Republican right wing, and because of that, quitting has never been easier.

VINCE CLARK
HERCULES, CALIF.

SPINNING THE SPINNERS

As citizens remove themselves in disgust from the political process, the public relations industry (“Dizzy”) is taking their place, turning the definition of “grassroots politics” upside down by using high-tech data systems to custom design “grassroots citizen movements” that serve the interests of their elite clients.

Astroturf organizing is corporate grassroots at its most deceitful. Even PR practitioners now use the term to deride their competitors’ work. “Real Grass Roots — Not Astroturf” screams an advertisement touting the services of one firm. But “real” in PR terms has a very different definition than its common meaning. PR professionals use the term to refer to orchestrated mass campaigns that are so well designed that they look real, better fooling journalists and the public.

JOHN STAUBER, CO-AUTHOR
TOXIC SLUDGE IS GOOD FOR YOU: LIES, DAMN LIES AND THE PUBLIC RELATIONS INDUSTRY
MADISON, WISC.

TESTING FAITH

We are flattered that Adele M. Stan (“Keeping Faith”) believes criticism from the Institute on Religion & Democracy keeps “religious progressives on the defensive.” But we can’t claim all the credit for ourselves.

Events far beyond our control have severely tested the faith of many a religious leftist over the past decade. When the myth of socialism collapses into the rubble of the Berlin Wall, when the myth of sexual liberation collapses into the social disaster of fractured families, when the myth of “the people” collapses into a cacophony of self-interested groups competing for victim status — it’s hard to sustain the confidence that the reign of God on earth is just a revolution away.

There is no better example of this crisis of confidence than your and J. Philip Wogaman’s response to our coverage of his political views. When we accurately report Wogaman’s well-documented sympathies for socialism, he and Mother Jones scream, “Smear!” Instead of either admitting an ideological conversion or mounting a stout defense of the old socialist ideal, they vent their frustrations upon the IRD. Our small operation would hardly be worthy of your attention if religious left leaders like Wogaman knew where they were headed and had the people in the pews following them.

I would not recommend to secular leftists that they place much hope in the “progressive groundswell” that Stan suggests is coming out of the churches. All the vital signs are still bad for the religious left: Membership continues to plummet, and the members who remain are increasingly conservative and ever more at odds with the leftists at headquarters.

Someday those denominations will return to Christian orthodoxy and political prudence — or they will die. We at the IRD are doing our small part to work for the former outcome. Thank you for noticing.

ALAN WISDOM, VICE PRESIDENT
INSTITUTE ON RELIGION & DEMOCRACY
WASHINGTON, D.C.

Rev. Dr. J. Philip Wogaman responds: I was delighted when the Berlin Wall came down, and as a pastor, I have consistently warned against sexual promiscuity. (And, by the way, Foundry Church is experiencing growth, not decline.) I acknowledge respect for the contributions of socialists and believe the public sector has an important role in economic life.

Would you get that from the IRD’s letter? Doesn’t the letter illustrate what Ms. Stan had to say — the distortion of views held by opponents, the innuendos, the adversarial tone?

A healthy democratic society has space for a rich diversity of views. The danger of groups like the IRD is that they tempt us to lose confidence in ourselves and our ability to learn from one another.

REV. DR. J. PHILIP WOGAMON
SENIOR MINISTER, FOUNDRY UNITED METHODIST CHURCH
WASHINGTON, D.C.

[Editor’s note: In our May/June issue, movie critic Roger Ebert and filmmaker John Sayles listed their picks for the best political films of the past 20 years. We invited readers to send us their favorite titles.

Bob Roberts was the most popular choice. MaryAnn McKibben Dana summed up the movie’s prescience: “If Pat Buchanan could sing…(shudder).”

A Sayles’ film, Matewan, was the second favorite — chalk its omission up to modesty. Opinion diverged from there, but below are some readers’ picks.]

  • Norma Rae (1979)
    Directed by Martin Ritt

  • Silkwood (1983)
    Directed by Mike Nichols

I was just a kid, but I remember the impact Norma Rae had on people. In Silkwood, the implication that corporate minds would do anything was chilling.

HEIDI HOOGSTRA
PORTLAND, ORE.

  • 9 to 5 (1980)
    Directed by Colin Higgins

In Roger Ebert’s preface, the first important political issue he mentions is sexism, but where is the movie pick to support that? Even I know the movie that broke the logjam on sexism was 9 to 5.

IRENE S. DICK-ENDRIZZI
SAN FRANCISCO, CALIF.

  • The Times of Harvey Milk (1984)
    Directed by Robert Epstein

The film shows the growing politicization of the gay movement and San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk’s genius at building political bridges to win reforms.

PETER DREIER
OCCIDENTAL COLLEGE
LOS ANGELES, CALIF.

  • Matewan (1987)
    Directed by John Sayles

Using the backdrop of Kentucky coal mines in the 1920s, Sayles crafts a story of dignity and of the power of solidarity under adverse working conditions, corporate greed, and racism.

GREG BENNETT
TORONTO, CANADA

  • High Hopes (1988)
    Directed by Mike Leigh

A touching yet scathing portrait of English neighbors under Thatcher–the name of the pet cactus in one household.

ANDREA HOLLAND
NORWICH, ENGLAND

  • Thelma & Louise (1991)
    Directed by Ridley Scott

What happens to women when they fight back. Remember how people responded to its message?

MARIA BEVACQUA
INSTITUTE FOR WOMEN’S STUDIES, EMORY UNIVERSITY
ATLANTA, GA.

  • Bob Roberts (1992)
    Directed by Tim Robbins

The film, unfortunately, proved to be a harbinger of the 1994 elections. Now, it is even more pertinent.

RANDY COVER
GAITHERSBURG, MD.

CORRECTIONS

In “Tobacco Dole” (May/June), C. Read deButts was mistakenly described as a “top RJR lobbyist.” He is senior vice president at Walt Klein & Associates, R.J. Reynolds’ consulting firm, and co-founder of Direct Connect, a Kansas City telemarketing company used by Sen. Bob Dole.

In “Keeping Faith” (May/June), we identified Betsy DeVos as the wife of Richard DeVos. She is married to his son, Richard DeVos, Jr.

Send your letter to Backtalk, Mother Jones, 731 Market Street, Suite 600, San Francisco, CA 94103. Or fax to 415-665-6696; e-mail to backtalk@motherjones.com. Include your name, address, and phone. Letters may be edited for space and clarity.