By: Dorothy Giobbe
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. That ad is our attempt to try to set the record straight.”
The ad was accepted without protest from the Times, but the Wall Street Journal and USA Today asked for changes before the ad ran.
The Brown & Williamson ad pictured the editor’s note and a partial view of the surrounding ads. Fitzgerald said USA Today wanted Brown & Williamson to secure release forms from the companies whose ads could partially be seen, although that was later resolved.
The Journal objected to the use of the word “buried,” because Fitzgerald said, “Their point was that buried implied that the Times acted with intent. They said if we didn’t change the word they would not run the ad, but would charge us for the space anyway.” For the Journal, buried was changed to
“It was kind of a censorship we’ve never run into before,” Fitzgerald said, “at least that’s the way we viewed it after editing our ad. It was really kind of offensive.”
Brown & Williamson isn’t the only tobacco company resorting to newspaper ads to tell its story. Joe Camel and his creators at R.J. Reynolds have also launched a media campaign against what is viewed by RJR as one-sided media coverage of smoking and health issues.
In an effort to persuade the public that the potential dangers of second-hand smoke have been exaggerated, RJR launched a newspaper advertising campaign that says most non-smokers are exposed to “very little” second-hand smoke, that “there are always two sides to every argument,” and “both sides need to be heard in order to make an informed decision.”
The full-page ads ran in USA Today, the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Washington Times, Winston-Salem (N.C.) Journal, National Journal, and Roll Call.
Two weeks later, RJR placed another full-page ad in the same newspapers, featuring a picture of RJR chairman James Johnston. In the ad Johnston, a smoker, holds aloft a cigarette while declaring “We do not ‘spike’ our cigarettes with nicotine.”
An RJR spokeswoman said the newspaper campaign will continue throughout the summer in major metropolitan dailies.
?( R.J. Reynolds ran this newspaper ad featuring its chairman, James Johnston, who defended the company’s products against critics.) [Photo & Caption]
?( R.J. Reynolds also ran newspaper ads that contended most non-smokers are exposed to “very little” second-hand smoke.) [Photo & Caption]
?( Brown & Williamson ran this ad to point out an error in a New York Times story and to protest the lack of prominence of the correction.) [Photo & Caption]