CBS kills '60 Minutes' tobacco report

November 10, 1995|By Bill Carter | Bill Carter,NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

In an atmosphere of heightened tension between cigarette manufacturers and the press, CBS' lawyers ordered the news program "60 Minutes" not to broadcast a planned on-the-record interview with a former tobacco company executive who was harshly critical of the industry.

Instead, the program has substituted a revised report for this Sunday that will examine how cigarette manufacturers try to prevent information from reaching the public.

The basis for CBS' concern with the original interview was not a threat of a suit for libel, its executives said. Rather, network officials said they feared, in part, that they might be held legally responsible because the executive had an agreement with the company, Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., not to disclose internal company matters.

But Mike Wallace, the "60 Minutes" correspondent who reported the story, said the recent settlement of a $15 billion lawsuit brought by the Philip Morris Companies against ABC News had changed the way CBS lawyers looked at the interview.

"The ABC lawsuit did not chill us as journalists from doing the story," Mr. Wallace said. "It did chill the lawyers, who with due diligence had to say, 'We don't want to, in effect, risk putting the company out of business.' "

Both Mr. Wallace and Don Hewitt, the executive producer of "60 Minutes," said they agreed with the lawyers' decision and supported the report to be broadcast on Sunday night, which focuses largely on Brown & Williamson.

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