Tobacco Firm Warns CBS Over Story’s Publication : Media: Transcript of interview that was killed by network attorneys appeared in newspaper.


Already stinging from criticism that it bowed to corporate pressure in killing an interview with a former tobacco industry executive, “60 Minutes” learned Friday that it may be in legal trouble even without having broadcast the piece.

After excerpts of the interview transcript were published in the New York Daily News, the Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp. told CBS in a letter that the network “will be held responsible for any libel contained in the transcript.”

The Daily News said that in the “60 Minutes” interview, the former Brown & Williamson employee charged that the tobacco company scrapped plans to create a safer cigarette and that it knowingly used a pipe-tobacco additive that causes cancer in laboratory animals. The newspaper also published the interviewee’s name.

CBS attorneys ordered the interview spiked last week on grounds that the network could have been open to a lawsuit for having induced the former employee to violate a confidentiality agreement he had signed with Brown & Williamson.


“The publishing of the interview transcript by the New York Daily News constitutes a further violation of B&W;'s legal rights, including intentional, knowing and malicious interference with B&W;'s contractual rights, and adds significantly to the harm suffered by B&W;,” general counsel F. Anthony Burke wrote to CBS general counsel Ellen Kaden.

“It is indeed ironic that CBS was properly unwilling to air the interview on ’60 Minutes,’ knowing full well that the interview was obtained in violation of B&W;'s rights,” Burke continued, “and yet has accomplished the same result by a backdoor leak to another news organization.”

Joseph Helewicz, a spokesman for Brown & Williamson, declined to comment on whether the company intends to sue CBS. Asked to respond to the charges contained in the newspaper story, he said: “We are not responding to the allegations in the Daily News. This letter is directed to CBS.”

Kaden of CBS also declined comment.

Sources said that the former executive named in the Daily News article was very much upset at being identified. “60 Minutes” had not planned to divulge his name or to show his face on camera.