Censored: The Leaked ABC Tape

A transcript and QuickTime video of “Tobacco Under Fire,” the provocative TV documentary ABC chose not to let you see.

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.


What you are about to read was killed — twice. First, in March 1994, ABC executives shelved “Tobacco Under Fire,” a documentary for the show “Turning Point,” the same day Philip Morris lawyers filed a lawsuit against the network regarding an earlier expos&eacute on nicotine in cigarettes.

Next, this documentary was smothered with cover-your-butt statements by the same ABC execs. They claimed, for example, that its Emmy-award-winning producers, Martin and Frank Koughan, refused to allow the program to be edited to a shorter length. In fact, ABC owns the tape and could air any part of it on any show tonight. In a final insult to the producers, reporters, viewers — everyone, really — ABC Executive Vice President Paul Friedman called the tape a “boring” rehash.

We disagree. The documentary serves as a good introduction to the tobacco wars. In the past two years, whistleblowers have confirmed much of the information on the tape. And at least one newsbreak has yet to be aired: Former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop reveals his disgust after learning of a memo from President Reagan to R.J. Reynolds promising the tobacco industry freedom from any trouble on his watch. Koop explains how Reagan’s trade representatives threatened tariffs in order to open Asian markets to American cigarettes. Even now, most Americans don’t know our government helps push Marlboros on the Chinese, Japanese, and Vietnamese.

“Tobacco Under Fire” was one of the early battlegrounds in the war between brave journalists and compromised network execs. By showing you the full transcript and QuickTime clips from the leaked tape, do you think we’ve taken sides?

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest