Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Tobacco Companies Buying Newspaper Ads to Refute Coverage, Correct 'Mistakes.'

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Tobacco Companies Buying Newspaper Ads to Refute Coverage, Correct 'Mistakes.'

Article excerpt

AS THE TOBACCO industry faces closer scrutiny than it has in the past, many tobacco companies are charging that too often they are victims of biased and slanted reporting.

Convinced they won't get a fair hearing in the press, some tobacco companies are fighting back by taking out newspaper ads, demanding retractions and monitoring coverage.

A few weeks ago, the New York Times printed an article about Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp. which contained an inaccuracy that was acknowledged in an editor's note the next day. However, Brown & Williamson was unsatisfied with the correction, claiming it was "buried" among display ads.

The next week, Brown & Williamson bought full-page ads in major newspapers across the country that pointed out the Times' reporting error and what Brown & Williamson said was the inadequate space given to the editor's correction.

Full-page, national-run ads appeared in the Times, Washington Post, USA Today and Wall Street Journal.

"We wanted to point out the newspaper's handling of what, in our view, was a serious factual error and an example of what we consider to be a biased approach to reporting on smoking and health issues," said Tom Fitzgerald, manager of public affairs for Brown & Williamson. "The way the correction was handled, buried, was very frustrating for us."

T.E. Sandefur, chairman and CEO of Brown & Williamson, faxed a letter to the Times, saying that the "camouflaged" editor's note "demonstrated just how unbalanced and unobjective the Times has become on the issue of smoking and health."

"It's as if any lapse, or any transgression against normal journalistic practice, is permissible so long as the ultimate goal is to discredit our company and the tobacco industry," Sandefur wrote.

"What you did was too little too late. The damage is done," the letter concluded.

"This was a front-page article that was carried across the United States and unleashed a torrent of media coverage about Brown & Williamson," Fitzgerald said. "The result is, which the editorial note points out, that it is based on a serious factual error . . . that calls into question the whole article. …

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