Betsy McCaughey and Big Tobacco

by Henry on September 28, 2009

More evidence that the discovery trove from the tobacco litigation is one of the major sources for information on the political economy of late 20th century America. James Fallows on notorious hack Betsy McCaughey.

the real news is the evidence that tobacco lobbyists secretly worked with McCaughey to prepare her infamous New Republic article “No Exit.” As I argued back in 1995 in “A Triumph of Misinformation,” everything about McCaughey’s role in the debate depended on her pose as a scrupulous, impartial, independent scholar who, after leafing through the endless pages of the Clinton health proposals, had been shocked by what she found. If it had been known at the time that she was secretly collaborating with one of the main interest-group enemies of the plan, perhaps the article would never had been published; at a minimum, her standing to speak would have been different.

Ms. McCaughey was apparently unwilling to be interviewed for the Rolling Stone article that Fallows is riffing off. This is a pity. It would have been interesting to have found out a little more about the precise role that tobacco lobbyists played in helping draft McCaughey’s notoriously mendacious piece (since the proposed reforms would have been partly bankrolled by a tobacco tax, they clearly had a considerable interest in influencing debate).

Update: The Manhattan Institute appears to be denying that McCaughey ‘worked with’ Philip Morris.

Is this a question of a lobbyist grossly exaggerating his “influence” to impress bosses and funders? That’s a very familiar pattern in Washington. On the other hand, the lobbyist’s detailed knowledge of Betsy McCaughey’s writing plans suggests some interaction. I don’t know the underlying truth here. It would be valuable if Ms. McCaughey, who has specialized in detailed textual analysis, would address in specific what these documents contend.

That politely acidulous ‘has specialized in detailed textual analysis’ is quite nice. I suspect that all this turns on the precise definition of what the term ‘worked with’ means or can be taken to imply.

{ 42 comments }

1

John Quiggin 09.28.09 at 7:18 pm

The tobacco archives are a gift that keeps on giving. The problems for anyone intellectually serious on the right is that it is essentially impossible to rely on the good faith of anything put forward on the rightwing side of any issue. After Roger Bate and Steve Milloy (purveyors of the DDT ban myth) were exposed as being on the tobacco payroll, I observed to anyone who wants to take the antiscience side in any debate on environmental issues

. If you want to quote someone on your side who was active in the 1990s, check the tobacco archive first. It’s ten to one on that they were on the Big Tobacco payroll. If they’ve been active any time in the last decade, do the same check for ExxonMobil. The odds are much the same. If you still want to rely on these sources, feel free, but don’t expect me to take your viewpoint seriously.

It’s clear that the same is true of any health related issue. And, given the complicity of all the major rightwing thinktanks and news outlets in this stuff, it seems reasonable to start with a prima facie assumption that anything argued by anyone on the US political right can be traced to the noise machine. The machine was created by Big Tobacco, and then largely funded by Exxon for a few years, but it has now taken on a life of its own.

This is, in many ways, a bigger problem for the intellectual right than the dominance of the Palins and Becks. The entire infrastructure built up in the final decades of last century has been corrupted beyond any hope of redemption. And its getting harder and harder to conceal this fact.

2

SamChevre 09.28.09 at 8:03 pm

Of course, the same skepticism as JQ mentions above applies in the other direction for me: if you ever argued for tobacco regulation for “health reasons”, I’ll assume that you aren’t ever arguing in good faith. (Because “health reasons” were used to justify bans that were clear and successful attempts to change norms, not to protect non-smokers.)

3

Salient 09.28.09 at 8:16 pm

if you ever argued for tobacco regulation for “health reasons”, I’ll assume that you aren’t ever arguing in good faith.

I assume you would not accept any argument for soda regulation for “health reasons,” e.g. a soda tax / added sugars tax? I don’t understand why the (potential) smoker’s health can’t be taken into account in good faith.

4

Walt 09.28.09 at 8:17 pm

It’s SamChevre, back to apologize for the unconscionable! Just like old times. I assume from long experience that despite John’s eloquent summary of the decay of the public space under the impact of a relentless assault that SamChevre’s dumb equivalence will now dominate the thread.

5

Ex-PD 09.28.09 at 8:29 pm

#4 True.

6

SamChevre 09.28.09 at 8:54 pm

Salient–no, I certainly agree that some regulations (no smoking in government offices, for example) are well-justified for health reasons, as is some level of taxation on tobacco products (enough that the total net cost to the social benefits system is the same for smokers and non-smokers). However, a LOT of the “health reasons” were transparent attempts to make smoking more stigmatized and more difficult, not to protect non-smokers.

7

CJColucci 09.28.09 at 9:27 pm

a LOT of the “health reasons” were transparent attempts to make smoking more stigmatized and more difficult, not to protect non-smokers.

Why, pray tell, would anyone want to stigmatize smokers and make smoking more difficult if not for “health reasons,” which might, of course, be mistaken?

8

John Quiggin 09.28.09 at 9:44 pm

And, to return to the OP and my comment, SamChevre appears unaware that the entire case against restrictions on smoking (including “libertarian” arguments against restrictions on smoking in public places and supposedly grassroots groups like FOREST) was ginned up by the tobacco industry. Wikipedia as usual has chapter and verse.

The same (with obvious variations) goes for almost every issue on which he has commented here: unless he has reached his views through purely abstract reasoning (a common habit of libertarians), he is relying for his evidence on the output of a propaganda machine. To put it plainly, SC is just as much a sucker for the tobacco industry (and its allies and imitators) as those unfortunate enough to be addicted to its products.

9

Jim Harrison 09.28.09 at 10:11 pm

If the Tobacco Institute or anybody else put out valid arguments it wouldn’t matter very much that their motives were financial. Thing is, though, the anti-science campaigns of the last forty years haven’t made for a better debate about real issues. They’ve simply allowed corporations to take huge profits while continuing to kill people in large numbers.

Arguing with big tobacco or big oil is a lot like arguing with creationists. You come up with endlessly more refined arguments in favor of conclusions you already knew were true., but the arguments don’t help because the other side is not acting in good faith and there is no possible argument that is going to make doing the right thing profitable.

10

mpowell 09.28.09 at 11:00 pm

In a sad attempt to establish an equivalence claim, SC instead outs himself as a troll. I suppose that can only help to clarify the discourse.

11

foolishmortal 09.29.09 at 12:00 am

In defense of SC, there is a legitimate argument to be had over the merits of tobacco legislation. The mere fact of a moneyed interest supporting one side does not negate the merits of the question. Verizon probably thinks people should be on the phone all the time, but that in itself does not mean cell phones cause brain cancer.

12

Carter 09.29.09 at 12:05 am

There is no rational justification for using a “huge increase in tobacco taxes” to pay for health care. Tobacco is already overtaxed, and if socialized medicine is a good thing one group shouldn’t be singled out to pay for it.

13

Anti-Contraband 09.29.09 at 1:20 am

The real issue is that contraband tobacco is seriously hurting our kids and is leading to more serious organised crime.

http://www.youtube.com/user/StopContraband

14

yoyo 09.29.09 at 1:58 am

tobacco smokers are lower income/education. its not like it take much imagination to see how it could get stigmatized, especially once the idea of ‘the children’ gets invovled. stigmatization easily takes on a life of its own

15

kth 09.29.09 at 2:06 am

The government would be in a morally more secure position if it banned cigarettes, rather than profiting from their sale, if one assumes that tobacco use ought to be discouraged. But a black market would be the result of a cigarette ban. I can’t think of a more just way to discourage smoking (which is obviously paternalistic, but what of that?) than to tax it. That the government gains whichever choice consumers make (in public health if they abstain, in revenue if they partake) is a practical argument for the policy, not a moral argument against it.

16

Moby Hick 09.29.09 at 4:04 am

I really miss smoking. If they’d taken the effort they used to reduce/stigmatize smoking and put it toward making safer tobacco or a cure for lung cancer, I wonder if the world wouldn’t be a better place. At the very least, I think that world would be a bit calmer and thinner.

17

Barry 09.29.09 at 10:16 am

foolishmortal 09.29.09 at 12:00 am

” The mere fact of a moneyed interest supporting one side does not negate the merits of the question. “

The point is that the tobacco companies set up an elaborate system for lying. It’s not that they advocated a position, it’s that they spent over 40 years lying, and using false flag operations to disguise those lies.

18

ajay 09.29.09 at 11:19 am

Tobacco is already overtaxed

Eh? Does this mean anything more than “more taxed than I’d like” or “more taxed than other things”?

and if socialized medicine is a good thing one group shouldn’t be singled out to pay for it.

I’m going out on a limb here and saying that no one in the world has ever proposed funding an entire national health care system exclusively through a tax on cigarettes. To do so for the US, you’d have to (back of envelope) put a $50 tax on each pack and be confident that that wouldn’t affect sales.

19

CTJack 09.29.09 at 1:37 pm

Re Betsy McCaughey’s writings being influenced by Phillip Morris, didn’t The Manhattan Institute refute that claim with the following statement?: “Betsy McCaughey wrote two articles for The Wall Street Journal on the Clinton Health Care plan and an additional article for The New Republic which was solicited by its publisher. At no time were her ideas influenced or controlled by anyone but the author herself.”
That would seem to discredit a significant portion of the article.

20

Tim O'Keefe 09.29.09 at 1:54 pm

#19. I think you used the word “refute” when you meant to use “contest.” With the proper word used, the conclusion that the Manhattan Institute’s statements discredits the article doesn’t follow.

21

nick s 09.29.09 at 2:35 pm

That would seem to discredit a significant portion of the article.

If the Manhattan Institute had a reputation for being something other than a gang of lying corporate whores. Perhaps.

22

parse 09.29.09 at 4:12 pm

Why, pray tell, would anyone want to stigmatize smokers and make smoking more difficult if not for “health reasons,” which might, of course, be mistaken?

My mother taught me early on that smoking was a dirty, nasty habit. I have an abiding antipathy for smoking and smokers that tempts me to stigmatize them for reasons other than the health effects of tobacco.

23

Ginger Yellow 09.29.09 at 5:06 pm

Smoking should be stigmatised. And I say that as a smoker.

24

politicalfootball 09.29.09 at 5:25 pm

That would seem to discredit a significant portion of the article.

I don’t see why. First, Manhattan Institute is speaking to a matter regarding which they have no knowledge – the “influence” of others on McCaughey. This constitutes a pretty straightforward falsehood by the institute.

Anyway, we know (and MI doesn’t deny) that Phillip Morris wanted a hatchet job done on the health bill, we know (and MI directly confirms) that PM communicated with McCaughey about the article before it was published, we know PM cited McCaughey as a co-conspirator, and we know that she subsequently acted on that conspiracy by writing an article that was so embarrassingly wrong that the New Republic disavowed it. What else do you need?

Second, Manhattan Institute denies way too much. To say that nobody had any “influence” over McCaughey’s reporting is something that I would assume that McCaughey herself would deny. Did she really write this article without consulting anyone?

25

functional 09.29.09 at 5:28 pm

The problems for anyone intellectually serious on the right is that it is essentially impossible to rely on the good faith of anything put forward on the rightwing side of any issue.

This seems a remarkable bit of extrapolation . . . because a handful of American right-wingers made bad arguments on behalf of Exxon and tobacco in the 1990s, therefore conservative arguments against, say, rent control or farm subsidies, etc., are discredited. To say that this argument is a stretch of logic stretches the meaning of “stretch” beyond recognition.

26

MarkUp 09.29.09 at 5:49 pm

”because a handful of American right-wingers made bad arguments on behalf of Exxon and tobacco in the 1990s, therefore”

But it didn’t just happen in the 90’s and it was a wee bit more than that very determinate, “handful,” therefore….

How many handfuls are in a peck; how many pecks are in a congress?

27

Tim Worstall 09.29.09 at 5:55 pm

“And, to return to the OP and my comment, SamChevre appears unaware that the entire case against restrictions on smoking (including “libertarian” arguments against restrictions on smoking in public places and supposedly grassroots groups like FOREST) was ginned up by the tobacco industry.”

Really? The tobacco industry was responsible for JS Mill?

28

james 09.29.09 at 7:30 pm

functional – People tend to selectively remember lies. If you want to ‘play the dozens’ on this topic. Point out the NY Times involvement in covering for Stalin and Castro. It gets pretty nasty. In general, it is always a good idea to verify information sources on a per topic basis.

29

Barry 09.29.09 at 9:19 pm

“In general, it is always a good idea to verify information sources on a per topic basis.”

Uh, no.

30

becky grant 09.30.09 at 8:46 am

I have to agree with James. There have been to many instances personally where I haven’t verified the source and it has led to mayhem. Not only personally but professional I think it is extremely important.

31

ajay 09.30.09 at 1:37 pm

Why, pray tell, would anyone want to stigmatize smokers and make smoking more difficult if not for “health reasons,” which might, of course, be mistaken?

Well, smoke smells bad, and clothes worn in a smoke-filled room smell worse, and smokers tend not to have the common courtesy to ask other people in the room whether they mind if they smoke.

32

Barry 09.30.09 at 2:04 pm

Ajay, I’ve felt that that was the big reason why so many people got on the anti-smoking bandwagon. 20-30 years ago, smokers smoked, and non-smokers STFU and breathed the smoke. I remember several years ago walking into a smoky bar; my eyes were burning afterwards, which was (at last!) an unfamiliar sensation, rather than the norm.

33

engels 09.30.09 at 2:11 pm

“And, to return to the OP and my comment, SamChevre appears unaware that the entire case against restrictions on smoking (including “libertarian” arguments against restrictions on smoking in public places and supposedly grassroots groups like FOREST) was ginned up by the tobacco industry.”

Really? The tobacco industry was responsible for JS Mill?

Where did John Stuart Mill argue against bans on smoking in public places, Tim?

34

Tim O'Keefe 09.30.09 at 2:47 pm

To follow up on #33, bans on smoking in public places would seem easy to justify under Mill’s Harm Principle, given the effects of second-hand smoke.

35

Uncle Kvetch 09.30.09 at 4:52 pm

This seems a remarkable bit of extrapolation . . . because a handful of American right-wingers made bad arguments on behalf of Exxon and tobacco in the 1990s, therefore conservative arguments against, say, rent control or farm subsidies, etc., are discredited.

“We will be welcomed as liberators.”

36

John Quiggin 09.30.09 at 7:33 pm

To respond a bit further to functional, it’s not ” a handful of American right-wingers made bad arguments on behalf of Exxon and tobacco in the 1990s”, it’s all the major thinktanks, news sources and so on for which rightwingers rely on for information and new arguments. If your views on rent control are derived from reading what Milton Friedman wrote about in the 1950s, or from an extrapolation of 19th century classical liberals, and you’re content not to update your beliefs with new information, the institutional corruption observed here is no problem. But if you want more on the topic you might well find something like this piece from the Manhattan Institute convincing. The fact that the Manhattan Institute is up for sale to any industry that cares to pay, and prone to weaselly denials of this fact, would then be a bit of a problem. Maybe, as with Betsy McCaughey’s lie-packed piece on health care, you’re being sold a pup by people who would benefit from the removal of rent control.

And, for Manhattan, you can substitute CEI, AEI, Cato, Fox News, Hudson, Marshall Institute and just about every other source of advocacy for rightwing views (go to the archives and search for Milloy, Bate, Singer, Seitz, Fumento etc etc.)

37

John Quiggin 09.30.09 at 10:07 pm

Leaving aside the Betsy McCaughey dispute, there’s ample evidence that the Manhattan Institute is (or was, while the cash was flowing) in the pay of the tobacco lobby

http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Manhattan_Institute_for_Policy_Research

38

Alex 09.30.09 at 10:19 pm

Tim Worstall, of course, at least used to be on the TechCentralStation payroll, i.e. on the ExxonMobile and AEI lobbying budgets, working for Jim “Dow 36,000” Glassman.

39

Jeff 10.02.09 at 3:27 am

Isn’t it likely true that a huge proportion of supposed opinion pieces (e.g. letters, columns, guest pieces, comments, and the like from “interested public”, expert, so-called think tanks, columnists, etc.) as well as journalism and other articles of background and general interst, are actually placed, bought, and strategized manipulative propaganda? Analogous to astroturf, much of public discourse less an expression of than manipulative of public opinion?

Is this cynicism or am I slow and it’s obvious?

40

David 10.05.09 at 6:53 pm

I think the fact that Betsy literally can’t get a job any more–has been dumped by the Hudson Institute, the think tank that has employed her for more than a decade, as well as by the board that she served on–speaks volumes about her credibility even on the right. Credible conservative critics of health care reform are horrified by McCaughey’s insane, self-serving lies. The only reason she gets media play is that liberal media outlets like to quote her to discredit conservatives. Now that she has no job, here’s hoping she fades into the obscurity she so richly deserves.

41

functional 10.05.09 at 9:01 pm

If your views on rent control are derived from reading what Milton Friedman wrote about in the 1950s, or from an extrapolation of 19th century classical liberals, and you’re content not to update your beliefs with new information, the institutional corruption observed here is no problem. But if you want more on the topic you might well find something like this piece from the Manhattan Institute convincing. The fact that the Manhattan Institute is up for sale to any industry that cares to pay, and prone to weaselly denials of this fact, would then be a bit of a problem. Maybe, as with Betsy McCaughey’s lie-packed piece on health care, you’re being sold a pup by people who would benefit from the removal of rent control.

Well, sorry, but your argument again boils down to utter silliness: because the Manhattan Institute apparently got $25,000 or $30,000 from some tobacco company once (compared to a yearly budget of over $12 million), therefore an article on rent control is probably wrong.

42

John Quiggin 10.05.09 at 10:55 pm

@functional

If you’re not a corporate shill yourself, you’re apparently happy to be sucked in by them, and to push their line for free. If you aren’t already on the payroll, I’d suggest writing to Manhattan and asking for a cut.

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