Tobacco and Rupe

Secret documents show that Philip Morris loves Rupert Murdoch’s tobacco-friendly media. That might explain why he’s on their board.

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It’s hard to open a newspaper or switch on the TV news these days without getting an earful about “corporate synergy.” But when that synergy is between the tobacco industry and the media, don’t expect it to be front-page news.

A 1985 document unearthed in the Minnesota attorney general’s tobacco lawsuit shows how the lure of advertising revenue can compromise news coverage of tobacco issues. The paper, from the files of tobacco giant Philip Morris, is titled “The Perspective of PM International on Smoking and Health Issues: Text of the discussion document used at the meeting of top management.”

That “discussion document” is a memo from Hamish Maxwell, a former Philip Morris chief executive, which outlines a broad strategy to shape public opinion in the company’s favor. Maxwell urges that Philip Morris use its “very considerable clout with the media,” who “like the money they make from our advertisements.” He names Rupert Murdoch and Malcolm Forbes as media proprietors “sympathetic to our position.”

In an appendix to the memo, another Philip Morris executive emphasizes the point, using Murdoch as the model for tobacco-media relations: “Murdoch’s papers rarely publish anti-smoking articles these days.”

Ancient history? Well, Rupert Murdoch is now on the board of Philip Morris, where he has held a seat since 1989. Hamish Maxwell is no longer top dog at the company, but Geoffrey Bible is, and Bible was voted onto the board of Murdoch’s News Corporation on June 23 of this year — an event which received virtually no media coverage.

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