Sixty-three years ago, as the scientific community neared consensus that tobacco products were dangerous, titans of the tobacco industry came together to meet with John Hill at the Plaza Hotel in New York. This was a rare gathering, as these executives were fighting one another for market share in an immensely competitive business. Hill, the founder of PR conglomerate Hill & Knowlton, recommended that they form a public relations operation, thinly veiled as a scientific institute, to argue that their products were safe. Together, the tobacco executives and Hill created the Tobacco Industry Research Committee, a sham organization designed to spread corporate propaganda to mislead the media, policymakers and the public at large.
.. Their goal was not to convince the majority of Americans that cigarettes did not cause cancer. Instead, they sought to muddy the waters and create a second truth. One truth would emanate from the bulk of the scientific community; the other, from a cadre of people primarily in the employment of the tobacco industry. The organization launched with an ad titled “A Frank Statement to Cigarette Smokers,” which ran in 400 newspapers reaching nearly 43 million readers and stated, “There is no proof that cigarette smoking is one of the causes” of lung cancer... However, in the 1950s, the industry’s efforts influenced coverage from journalists as revered as Edward R. Murrow. In 1994, the chief executives of the seven largest tobacco companies told Congress under oath that they did not believe their products were addictive; more than 20 years later, they have yet to face penalties for their apparent perjury. Vice President-elect Mike Pence wrote in an op-ed posted on his 2000 congressional campaign website that, “despite the hysteria from the political class and the media, smoking doesn’t kill.” That year, his campaign received at least $13,000 from PACs affiliated with Big Tobacco... The sugar industry, for instance, has promoted research designed to distract from the health effects of its products. Its Sugar Research Foundation provided funding to Harvard scientists to counter claims that sugar causes heart disease, despite the overwhelming evidence... In the 1970s, scientists at Exxon (now ExxonMobil) knew that their products were changing the climate, but the company nonetheless funded think tanks and organizations dedicated to denying the existence of global warming, such as the Heartland Institute and the Competitive Enterprise Institute... The “death panels” lie was invented and evangelized by Betsy McCaughey, who had also been a leading opponent of Hillary Clinton’s health-care reform efforts in the ’90s. No surprise there: McCaughey has strong ties to the tobacco industry... In August, Trump’s campaign announced that McCaughey would serve as an economic adviser...We’ve seen this pattern repeated on issue after issue. A well-financed group invents lies and convinces a substantial share of the public that those lies are true. The propaganda purveyors recognize that the media’s instinct to cover “both sides” of an issue, people’s tendency to believe claims that conveniently fit their ideology, and, more recently, social media’s propensity to spread falsehoods all create a fundamental weakness in our civil society... This political misinformation is so powerful that people have refused access to medical care because they were frightened by lies they had heard about Obamacare.