Gillibrand’s Smoky Past

Pundits have already commented on Governor Patterson’s astounding ineptness in managing to anger the three most powerful political families in New York State–the Kennedys, the Cuomos, and the Clintons–by his fumbling appointment of Kirsten Gillibrand to the Senate.  But what disturbs me the most is that Patterson blew the chance to appoint a card-carrying liberal to the Senate, at a time when liberal senators are an endangered species, with the most influential of them, Teddy Kennedy, fighting brain cancer.  New York is one of the few remaining states in which a man or woman espousing progressive positions can still get elected, and so it was a waste to hand the seat to a conservative chameleon.

The story in today’s New York Times about her legal work for the tobacco industry confirms my view that she was the wrong choice.  Tobacco companies were entitled to legal representation in their unscrupulous bid to suppress from the public their internal scientific studies showing a link between smoking and cancer.  Fundamental to our judicial system is the idea that even the devil deserves a legal advocate.  But Gillibrand did not have to choose to be the one to defend their dirty work.

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5 Responses to “Gillibrand’s Smoky Past”

  1. Peter Blau Says:

    Oh my God Paul — are we are going to judge people by the actions of their former employer’s clients? To quote the U of C Law Professor in the article” “Nobody would want to live in a world in which lawyers are judged by the clients they take.”

    (Or to quote Hillary Clinton when criticized for representing the dubious Madison Guaranty bank: “What did you expect me to be doing [as a corporate lawyer]: staying home and baking cookies?”

    Would you begrudge Sen. Gillibrand had she had defended suspected Islamic terror groups? (The Times, for one, would surely be on her side in that case…and if you really want a “card carrying…” for the senate, why don’t you mount a campaign for Lynne Stewart…I think she’s out of prison by now!)

    And speaking of the moralizing NY Times, what about all the money THEY made by selling ad space to cigarette companies across all their newspapers and magazines…it wasn’t too long ago. I never saw THEM turning away the bucks on moral grounds.

  2. paulhoffman Says:

    The Times piece makes clear that at her law firm, attorneys could opt out of work that they found ethically or morally objectionable. She did not opt out. And at the very time she began representing Philip Morris, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention came out with a devastating actuarial report (1993) showing that each cigarette chops seven minute’s off a smoker’s life and that a total of 5.04 million years of life in the United States are lost annually to cigarettes. The CDC identified “418,690 deaths in the United States in 1990 that it said were premature and directly attributed to cigarette smoking, not counting cigars, pipes and smokeless tobacco” (see http://www.nytimes.com/1993/08/27/us/smoking-s-annual-cost-is-put-at-5-million-years-of-life.html?scp=2&sq=annual%20smoking%20deaths&st=cse). I believe she was morally bankrupt in choosing to represent a client whose products were complicit in so many of these deaths, a client that tried to conceal–and deny the existence of–their own studies showing the dangers of smoking.

    As for Lynne Stewart, I didn’t say Patterson should have chosen a radical; Stewart would not have been electable.

  3. Peter Says:

    No disagreement with the fact that smoking is bad for you, just the selective moralizing. Again, I point to the example of all the publishing executives who sold ad space to tobacco companies. When was the last time any one them was subjected to scrutiny like this? I happen to have found coverage of a 1992 study in the New England Journal of Medicine on this subject. (http://www.nytimes.com/1992/01/30/business/the-media-business-coverage-of-smoking-linked-to-tobacco-ads.html)
    At the time, most magazines still carried tobacco ads, and the study showed that those titles — compared with those who didn’t — “have consistently restricted or softened coverage of the dangers of smoking.”

    Another interesting piece from the NYT archives: http://www.nytimes.com/1987/02/17/us/aba-rejects-plan-on-tobacco-ad-ban.html. The great First Amendment lawyer, Floyd Abrams, was on the side arguing that a tobacco ad-bad would be unconstitutional. Never heard anyone call Abrams immoral for doing so. Had to tell whether Abrams sincerely believed the the concept of “commercial free speech,” or simply was representing the financial interests of his publishing clients.

  4. paulhoffman Says:

    Peter, I agree with you about selective moralizing, and moreover I’m a strong champion of individual and commercial free speech. As long as cigarettes are legal, I believe that the tobacco companies should have the right to market their products. But I also believe it was criminal of them to cover-up their own scientific studies showing that cancer and cigarettes are linked. They selectively denied the existence of such studies, destroyed them, or suppressed them. So too do I believe that food purveyors should be able to aggressively market their products. But if the company conducted lab tests and they showed that, say, its peanut butter contained salmonella, the company would be criminally negligent if it ignored, suppressed or destroyed the test results. In the case of tobacco, critics have said that lawyers actively abetted the cover-up: doing the equivalent of telling a murder defendant to throw his gun in the Hudson River.

    I agree with the point you make about the media and advertising. Having run a magazine for ten years (and I refused to take tobacco advertising), I’m well aware of how commercial pressures can skew editorial coverage. It is good to have third parties calling attention to this and blowing the whistle on specific magazines or newspapers or, now, Web sites that bend to this pressure.

    Do you think, Peter, that when our fathers played poker decades ago, they engaged in spirited discussions like this?

  5. Peter Says:

    Paul,

    I’m sure there were many fascinating discussions at those poker games. Of particular interest to me: the various shades of communist/ex-communist and socialist/ex-socialist belief among these guys. Personally. I think politics got much more boring when the Vietnam war turned so many political issues into a black & white / “for or against” argument.

    Another thing that interest me about this group is that, here we were in this affluent bedroom community, with this group of really intelligent, well-educated people, and most of them did not conform to conventional standards of success. According to conventional wisdom (see “Revolutionary Road” or the TV series “Mad Men) 50’s and 60’s suburbia was characterized by a stifling conformity.

    The Westport I see today is really much MORE conformist. Just about everyone is a highly compensated professional of some sort or another (disproportionately in the financial services field) and it’s hard to imagine they ever had any passion beyond getting into the right schools to get the right job, and to make sure their kids do the same. And I do not think this is just Westport; I think I’d feel the same way in Manhattan, Santa Monica, the Berkeley Hills, etc. etc.

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