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From AJR,   December 1998  issue

Why Not Just Buy It?   


By Lori Robertson
Lori Robertson (robertson.lori@gmail.com), a former AJR managing editor, is a senior contributing writer for the magazine.      

In late October, an internal Philip Morris Cos. memo surfaced that suggested the organization buy a major media outlet in order to "truly influence the public policy agenda and the information flow to the populace."

The March 20, 1990, document is part of the voluminous collection of papers released in connection with Minnesota's lawsuit against tobacco companies, which was settled in May. Titled "Top Secret Operation Rainmaker," the anonymous memo, which probably caused a number of journalists to shake their heads, produced a few hearty guffaws within Philip Morris as well.

"It was an outrageous idea," says Philip Morris spokeswoman Peggy Roberts. "When that popped up, everyone laughed about it."

Roberts says there's no way to tell who wrote the memo, who received it or even if it was a serious proposition. "Rainmaker" lists Knight Ridder, Copley News Service, United Press International and Mortimer B. Zuckerman's publications as media organizations Philip Morris should consider owning. The idea, says Roberts, "was never considered."

The presumed Philip Morris "jokester" appears to have been looking for more favorable stories about tobacco products in the press. Thankfully, AJR hasn't seen too many headlines like these:

Grandma Started Smoking at 15, Still Alive at 80

The Lung Cancer Myth

The Key to Longevity: Why Pre-teens Should Smoke Three Packs a Day

Clean Air a Health Threat, Study Says

AMA Honors Joe Camel

The Cigar: The Ideal Sex Toy*

*Actually, we may have seen that one.