One crucial B. McCaughey update

By James Fallows

I have deliberately laid off the Betsy McCaughey theme for the past month-plus. I had my say; she continues to have hers; people can make up their minds.

But revelations late last week by Tim Dickinson, of Rolling Stone, are at face value so important that they deserve to be underscored. It's worth reading Dickinson's whole dispatch and studying the on-line scans of the documents he has found. But to me the real news is the evidence that tobacco lobbyists secretly worked with McCaughey to prepare her infamous 1994 New Republic article "No Exit." 

As I argued back in 1995 in "A Triumph of Misinformation," everything about McCaughey's role in the debate depended on her pose as a scrupulous, impartial, independent scholar who, after leafing through the endless pages of the Clinton health proposals, had been shocked by what she found. If it had been known at the time that she was secretly collaborating with one of the main interest-group enemies of the plan, perhaps the article would never had been published; at a minimum, her standing to speak would have been different.

(For the record: Yes, I am aware that my friend and current Atlantic colleague Andrew Sullivan, who was then TNR's editor, is the one who decided to publish this article. In the 15 years since the article's appearance, the magazine and its writers have, to their credit, repeatedly pointed out its errors and apologized for spreading its misinformation. Mickey Kaus was doing so immediately after the article's embarrassing selection for a National Magazine Award for "Excellence in Public Interest." Jonathan Cohn, author of the indispensable book Sick, did so early this year. The TNR site has a "link" to the original McCaughey piece, but it's not connected to the article itself.)
 
Now Tim Dickinson produces documents from a tobacco lobbyist about his efforts to derail the Clinton health bill, including this one involving McCaughey and her then employer, the Manhattan Institute:
 
Thumbnail image for RSMcCaugh2.jpg
In case that's blurry, here is what Dickinson says:

"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 Manhattan 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." '

"McCaughey did not respond to Rolling Stone's request for an interview."

Maybe there is another side to this story, but if unrebutted it is damning.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2009/09/one-crucial-b-mccaughey-update/27320/