Interest Groups and the Courts: Free Speech for Corporations
Wayne V. McIntosh and Cynthia L. Cates
"'60 Minutes' Kills Piece on Tobacco Industry: CBS Fears Lawsuit, Cites ABC Settlement." This was the headline for a story appearing in the 10 November 1995 edition of the Washington Post. The CBS newsmagazine had been instructed not to air an interview already taped and scheduled to run on the next Sunday's (12 November) show. "We were told [by CBS lawyers] that we couldn't put the piece on," Mike Wallace, the veteran 60 Minutes correspondent who conducted the interview, said. "In the final analysis, they are the publishers. . . . We argued with the attorneys and we lost."
The interview was with a former tobacco company research scientist and vice-president, Jeffrey Wigand, who had worked for Brown & Williamson, one of the nation's largest cigarette manufacturers. Wigand possessed detailed inside information and was set to dispute the public position of industry executives by revealing that the addictive qualities of nicotine had been known for decades.
Earlier in the year ABC News had run a story, based on an inside source dubbed "Deep Cough," suggesting that the tobacco companies "spiked" cigarettes with nicotine in order to guarantee their consumer market and had done so for a long time. In response, Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds filed a $10 billion libel suit. Within months, ABC settled, agreeing to pay the cigarette manufacturers' legal costs for their trouble and instructing its news division to issue a public apology for the story. CBS killed its piece, even though Brown & Williamson had not even