Betsy McCaughey, Big Tobacco, and the campaign to destroy health care reform

Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson reports that Betsy McCaughey's mid-1990s lies about health care reform -- lies that helped torpedo the Clinton administration's efforts to provide universal health care -- were, in effect, the result of tobacco-industry propaganda:

McCaughey's lies were later debunked in a 1995 post-mortem in The Atlantic, and The New Republic recanted the piece in 2006. But what has not been reported until now is that McCaughey's writing was influenced by Philip Morris, the world's largest tobacco company, as part of a secret campaign to scuttle Clinton's health care reform. (The measure would have been funded by a huge increase in tobacco taxes.) In an internal company memo from March 1994, the tobacco giant detailed its strategy to derail Hillarycare through an alliance with conservative think tanks, front groups and media outlets. Integral to the company's strategy, the memo observed, was an effort to “work on the development of favorable pieces” with “friendly contacts in the media.” The memo, prepared by a Philip Morris executive, mentions only one author by name:

“Worked off-the-record with [The] Manhattan [Institute] and writer Betsy McCaughey as part of the input to the three-part exposé in The New Republic on what the Clinton plan means to you. The first part detailed specifics of the plan.”

Now, it isn't necessarily shocking that a reporter would talk off-the-record with business interests while writing an article about legislation that would affect them. But McCaughey's relationship with Big Tobacco was merely not that of “reporter” and “source.”

See, McCaughey was working for The Manhattan Institute at the time. And The Manhattan Institute was funded by -- you guessed it -- tobacco companies.

While Phillip Morris was “working with” McCaughey in 1994, the tobacco giant was also budgeting $25,000 for The Manhattan Institute for 1995. The Manhattan Institute has also taken tobacco money from Brown & Williamson, R.J. Reynolds, and Lorillard.

So that's where McCaughey's dishonest New Republic article -- the article that did more than any other to kill health care reform in the 1990s -- came from. The tobacco companies that funded the “think tank” that employed McCaughey “worked off-the-record” with her to shape the article.

The New Republic eventually "recanted" McCaughey's article, a decade after the damage was done, and apologized for it (though then-editor Andrew Sullivan stands by the decision to publish the article.)

So, now that Betsy McCaughey is again trying to kill health care reform, you have to wonder -- who is paying for her deception this time? And which news organizations will eventually have to apologize for promoting her dishonest work?