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PHILIP MORRIS’ SWIFT PR MACHINE PLAYS UP ABC’S LIMITED APOLOGY

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Like a pro wrestler pounding the mat in feigned pain, Philip Morris, heavyweight champ of the tobacco world, howled and yowled and pointed to a horrible hurt that we couldn't quite see.

Never mind. The departing corporate owners of ABC News felt their pain - just enough to give the corporate owners of Philip Morris everything they'd really set out to achieve. Philip Morris had gone to court not so much to disprove the news media as to defeat a new wave of government reformers and regulators who want to call tobacco a drug and control it with new tough policy.By now you must think you know all about it: that ABC apologized for having reported that the cigarette manufacturer "spikes" its tobacco with nicotine (which the experts say is addictive).

Truth is, that is not what ABC apologized for. The network apologized only for having implied - but never actually stated - in its original "Day One" news magazine report, that when the company adds nicotine back into the tobacco, it gets that nicotine from "outside sources."

Many commentators jumped, or were unsubtly nudged, by Philip Morris' turbo-powered PR machine into thinking the apology was far broader than it was. This happened because ABC's corporate owners, who may well have been anxious to leave no legal threads dangling for their new owners from Disney, allowed Philip Morris to cleverly redefine the game and then gleefully trumpet a victory in the out-of-court settlement of the tobacco company's absurdly oversized $10 billion lawsuit.

So you and the commentators read the full-page newspaper ads - "Apology accepted" - that Philip Morris rushed to buy. Including their bleat about how maligned the tobacco industry is when it is "subject to relentless attacks" including "accusations" about "spiking."

No wonder viewers who saw the apology in this new era of the Wide Wide World of TV Newssport were left wondering if they'd just witnessed the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat or the heartbreak of psoriasis.

Actually, what they'd witnessed was a triumph in the battle to influence public policy - as a tobacco industry giant used TV's mightiest news network as its own power tool for lobbying and PR, too.

Philip Morris knew that the central disclosure of the ABC News report was irrefutable: That during the processing of tobacco, the nicotine disappears; and so the company puts nicotine back into the tobacco used in the cigarettes.

Philip Morris' legal brain trust decided the company should begin complaining about how maligned it was by ABC's implication that the nicotine it puts back into the cigarettes comes from "outside sources."

No doubt millions of smokers who feel addicted to the cigarettes that can be giving them cancer, heart or lung disease will be cheered to know the industry's reconstituted bottom legal line: The nicotine that has hooked them was an inside job, not an outside job.