Tuesday, January 30, 2007

What bothers me about the Washington Post . . .

. . . is how it often prints opinion columns from lobbyists or other self-interested parties without revealing that information.

One example I saw today is a piece discounting harm from second-hand smoke, written by one Gio Batta Gori. Here is how the Post described him:

Gio Batta Gori, an epidemiologist and toxicologists,(sic) (UPDATE -- this typo is now corrected -- BJF) is a fellow of the Health Policy Center in Bethesda. He is a former deputy director of the National Cancer Institute's Division of Cancer Cause and Prevention, and he received the U.S. Public Health Service Superior Service Award in 1976 for his efforts to define less hazardous cigarettes. Gori's article "The Surgeon General's Doctored Opinion" will appear in the spring issue of the Cato Institute's Regulation Magazine.

That sounds pretty good. Suspiciously good, to my eyes, because the article presented very little evidence. It read like a lobbyist's talking points. Well, that's what Gori became after he left the U.S. government. But the Washington Post didn't tell me that. I had to find it out myself.

My first stop was SourceWatch. Admittedly, this group has a liberal, anticorporate bias. But if Gori had any tobacco ties, this place would reveal them. Here is part of what SourceWatch said about him:

. . .In 1980 Gori became Vice President of the Franklin Institute Policy Analysis Center (FIPAC), a consulting firm funded initially by a $400,000 grant from the Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corporation (B&W). Following its initial formation, FIPAC continued to receive hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding annually from B&W. Gori worked on R&D projects for B&W, such as analysis of the sensory perception of smoke and how to reduce the amount of tobacco in cigarettes. By 1989, Gori was a full time consultant on environmental tobacco smoke issue for the Tobacco Institute in the Institute's ETS/IAQ (Indoor Air Quality) Consultants Project. In May 1993, Gori entered an exclusive consulting arrangement with B&W, reaping pay at the rate of $200/hour an day to $1,000/day for attending conferences.

Activities in which Gori engaged on behalf of the tobacco industry included attending conferences, writing and publishing books and papers, and lobbying.

But there's more. Even when he was with the government, Gori was known for being pro-tobacco. This excerpt is from a 1978 Time magazine article about the flap raised by Jimmy Carter's praise of tobacco:

The Tobacco Institute, lobby for the industry, declared, "We could not have written it [Carter's statement] better than that." And almost as if on cue, Gio Batta Gori, a high official of the Government-financed National Cancer Institute, announced a short-term study showing that some of the new cigarettes were so low in toxins that they could be smoked in "tolerable" numbers without appreciable bad effects on average smokers.

At the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, which runs the antismoking campaign, people muttered a few words of sympathy for a President caught up in politics and went about their job of urging the nation to give up cigarettes. But when the new report on "tolerable" cigarette smoking hit the front pages, both an alarmed Surgeon General and Gori's boss at NCI went public to repudiate Gori and make sure everyone understood that cigarette smoking was still not considered safe. The federal antismoking campaign thus rolled on, expecting an extra $10 million from Carter's new budget.

Gori also admitted being paid to write pro-tobacco letters, according to this article in the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

The agency began studying the issue in 1988. In the months leading up to the agency's final report, Tobacco Institute officials began planning ways to blunt what they anticipated would be the study's negative findings. They began an international search for scientists willing to criticize the report.

In one unsigned institute memo dated July 9, 1993, under the heading "Project: Recruitment of additional scientific consultants," the author expressed what the cigarette companies were looking for:

"Top priorities are a cardiologist and a numbers person (epidemiologist, biostatistician)," it read. "Ideal are people at or near retirement with no dependence on grant-dispensing bureaucracies."

Among the people they came up with was Dr. Gio Batta Gori, a former top official at the National Cancer Institute who now works as a consultant to the tobacco industry.

Between December 1992 and July 1993, Gori was paid $20,137 for two letters to the Wall Street Journal, one letter to the British medical publication The Lancet, one letter to the NCI Journal and one opinion piece to the Wall Street Journal, the records show.

The opinion piece was rejected by the editors of the Wall Street Journal, but that didn't stop Gori from billing the law firm of Covington and Burling $4,137.50 for it.

Gori, now a private consultant for tobacco in Bethesda, Md., said he didn't particularly remember the letters. "This is six years ago. Who the hell remembers those things?" he said.

He said there was nothing wrong with getting paid to write the letters. That's his job, he said.

"Are you getting paid for what you're writing?" he asked. "We're all out there working."

Of course, anybody with ethics would know what's wrong here: Gori is being paid for his propaganda, while pretending to be a neutral expert. He was hired to give a false facade of scientific integrity to a PR campaign. Being a tobacco industry rent-a-scientist is nothing to be proud of.

I found all this in a few minutes of Googling. Apparently, the editors of the Post don't know how to Google, or don't care that they're publishing an article by a tobacco lobbyist without identifying him as such.

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