“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Monday, August 13, 2007

the charming Mr. Rove

Rove’s resignation today is in secret correspondence with the post I was going to write, but haven’t, because I am exhausted – for some reason, I’m not gettin’ my Zs. Well, let me do some of this in my sleep.

I’ve been reading Allan Brandt's The Cigarette Century. I read Helen Epstein’s review in the NYRB, and thought that the tone was off: Epstein claimed that her Mom’s death from lung cancer could be directly blamed on the cigarette companies. Myself, I always think, we all know quite well that smoking causes lung cancer. But I picked up the book, and I have had to modify my view about cig companies. There is a beautiful chapter in this book entitled “Constructing Controversy” which outlines not only the way the tobacco industry manufactured a “scientific controversy” as a political tool to prevent regulation of cigarettes, but the way their procedure introduced a whole new, dire dimension to American political life.

The deal went down like this. After Hill and Doll’s epidemiological study showed the causal link between lung cancer and smoking in 1951, the cigarette makers faced a crisis. The cancer study could have utterly collapsed sales, or so the makers thought. What were they to do? In the event, they got together, hired a pr firm, Hill and Knowlton. Hill and Knowlton wisely decided cigarette companies couldn't just advertise that they were safe - they needed a pr mechanism that was subtler than that. So the companies ponied up money for a false front 'research' think tank. H and T issued a “frank statement’ of concern from the collective industry. The statement promised to safeguard the public health. Then they set up the Tobacco Industry Research Committee - H and T made it clear that the think tank had to have 'research' in the name, as that would make it seem unbiased. Then they went looking for buyable scientists to form an advisory committee. The scientists would have preference when it came to research money. Plus, of course, the scientists were vetted on whether they were predisposed to doubt the epidemiological link. Whether, for instance, they smoked themselves. And finally they needed a man of integrity. Rather as the Exxon crowd has found, in the MIT scientist, Stephen McIntyre, a wonderful sceptical face to put upon a massive con job when it comes to ‘debating’ Global Warming, the TIRC found C.C. Little. He had great credentials. He’d headed up a Cancer institute at Bar Harbor, been a university president, won a lot of respect for his cancer research. However, he had an idee fixe, which was that cancer was genetic. And this idee fixe couldn’t stomach another causative agent for any cancer. So, as the evidence from animal research in the fifties mounted, as more epidemiological research was done, as the lemon lemon lemon kept coming up on the cancer machine, he impeturbably stuck to the Hill and Knowlton script that the industry found the case ‘unproven.’ Meanwhile, the TIRC busily sent mass mailings to doctors and buttonholed pliable journalists and editors, brilliantly orchestrating a campaign to make it look like the cancer link was headed into greater scientific uncertainty when, actually, the research was becoming more and more conclusive. The papers loved it, just as they loved cigarette advertising. The old days of blatant lying in the news biz were being modernized. Lying was done now by omission and the hosting of fake sides to debates which were carefully framed to help the multiple choice challenged reader get which was the right and which was the wrong side – and not get sidetracked by any risky and anti-business like side at all.

It was all splendid. Per capita consumption of cigs actually rose after the cancer link was found, from 3,344 a year in 1954 to 4,025 in 1960. The profits were gorgeous. And, considering that about 450,000 people die annually from smoking related lung disease, we are talking a good 2.4 million deaths – not to speak of the number of lungs that have merely been operated on.

The cream of this capitalist jest is that the tobacco companies were worried about those deaths. After all, those were customers. They were researching making less carcinogenic fare. But could they? Behind the scenes, tobacco industry scientists were actually discovering carcinogens in cigarette smoke. While the TIBC, set up to do research on lung cancer, never, well, did any, secret memos from research done for the tobacco companies that Brandt got hold of tell a different story. For instance, for Phillip Morris, a scientist named Helmut Wakeham had discovered 15 different carcinogens in cigarette smoke by 1963. And more. In one memo, he wrote about “cardiovascular ailments that may arise from smoking are due to the physiological effects of nicotine.”

You have to hand it to the cigarette companies. That kind of fake controversy and intellectual dishonesty was ahead of its time. What was needed to make it truly come alive into an all American fun filled broomhandle up your bottom was combining it with the populist anger of the always inflamable peckerwood contingent. The cig companies didn’t see that. Like Balboa dying at Darien, they glimpsed only the glitter of an alien ocean. It took the petro companies in the seventies to create that final little bit, just for you, thus bringing about the political atmosphere we live in, and the shroud of misdirection that any issue - Iraq, global warming, national health care - immediately runs into. Rove-like creatures require careful cultural preparation before they can really do their little thing. A significant proportion of the American booboisie has learned to cretinize itself all by itself. They hardly need any training any more. Horatio Alger meets Dr. Mengele in a happy ending, a laff riot. I about died! Two thumbs up!


P.M.Lawrence said...

That's a little unjust to Dr. Mengele. It was actually the Nazi scientific establishment that first spotted the smoking/cancer link, and it was the political incorrectness of their work that held up similar research in the west.

Qlipoth said...

There's a YouTube video of a fresh-faced, rosy-cheeked, floppy-haired Turdblossom, aged 22 and already scheming the downfall of the counter-counterculture:

CBS Evening News, January 18th, 1972

Karl Rove, GOP College Director of the Republican National Committee, third pillar of the Nixon Campaign tripod (the other two being the White House and the Campaign for Re-Election of the President)."


(Blossom appears four minutes in.)



roger said...

Mr. Lawrence, excellent point. Interesting that the nazi experience reproduces the fifties experience, down to the increase in the per capita consumption of cigarettes and the way tobacco companies positioned themselves to counter the anti-smoking campaign.
This link is a nice overview .