Smoking Gun…

Cleveland, Ohio

Jon Wiener’s March 15 cover article, "Big Tobacco & the Historians," is a journalistic lapse. It tells the story of Robert Proctor, a historian who has long testified for plaintiffs in smoking and health cases. For almost as long, Dr. Proctor has worked extrajudicially to dissuade other historians from testifying against him.

In 2009 Proctor learned the names of University of Florida graduate students who served as research assistants to an opposing historian. On learning the names, Proctor contacted a Florida professor he thought might be sympathetic. He provided her with the students’ names and in e-mails urged her to contact, in sequence, the students’ advisers, the department chair and the complete department faculty to forbid the students from doing the work. Hints of this reached the students, and judicial discovery ensued. I took Proctor’s deposition. The article quotes the plaintiffs’ lawyer, but I was not contacted.

Wiener’s assertion that the judge who reviewed Proctor’s conduct found "nothing improper" is stupefying. The court found Proctor’s conduct to be "tortious," "designed to strike at the heart" of a "fair and impartial trial." It described Proctor’s efforts to humiliate the graduate students as the "lowest of the low."

Nor did Proctor produce his correspondence to defendants, as your article implies. Rather, he deleted the damaging e-mails from his computer when he learned they might be sought. They were ultimately obtained from the University of Florida’s server. The court found that Proctor had engaged in an unsuccessful cover-up.

Nor did Louis Kyriakoudes, another testifying historian, who works with Proctor, withdraw because of "harassment." He withdrew when an e-mail of his was discovered advising Proctor to change and falsify testimony. The article, including its attacks on opposing historians, reads as though written by Proctor himself. It is false.

One expects more from The Nation.




Wiener Replies

Irvine, Calif.

Theodore M. Grossman boasts on his web page at that he is Big Tobacco’s "stopper" in winning high-profile cases. For years he has worked to stop smokers with cancer from collecting damages; now he’s trying to stop Stanford historian Robert Proctor from testifying as an expert witness on behalf of such smokers.

It’s true that Volusia County Circuit Court Judge William Parsons called Proctor the "lowest of the low." But the judge had been asked by tobacco attorneys to exclude Proctor as an expert witness, and the judge rejected their motion. Proctor will testify in the case in question. One other relevant fact, noted by Judge Parsons in his Order Denying Motion to exclude Proctor: "the court has never had the opportunity to meet Dr. Proctor" and "there was no evidentiary hearing" in which Proctor could have appeared or offered a defense.

Proctor was concerned about the graduate students in question because their research was part of the tobacco companies’ legal strategy: when smokers get lung cancer it’s their own fault, tobacco attorneys tell juries, because newspapers published articles in the 1950s and ’60s about the health hazards of smoking. The Florida students were searching local papers for those articles.

The fact is, Proctor did produce his correspondence. Grossman himself was sent those e-mails by Stanford senior counsel Lauren Schoenthaler, along with a statement that "Stanford is providing these records to you at Mr. Proctor’s request." In the e-mails he does not seek to have "the complete department faculty…forbid the students from doing the work." That is false. All he says is, "I would be very interested to know whether these students’ advisors know what they have been doing." As for the charge that he "deleted the damaging e-mails…when he learned they might be sought": Proctor says, "That is untrue. I delete my e-mails routinely."

There is nothing in the judge’s order finding that Kyriakoudes advised Proctor to "falsify testimony." Also, Kyriakoudes did not withdraw from the case that gave rise to controversy over the Florida grad students; he testified in that case (Campbell). He did withdraw from another case, Hetzner, but not because of issues of e-mail; he withdrew because the court changed the date of the trial. He signed a notarized affidavit testifying to the fact that he had a scheduling conflict. "I had to teach," he told me.

Grossman argues that the victims in this case are the Florida grad students, and the victimizer is Proctor. That is a distraction from the real issue: the 400,000 US smokers who die of smoking-related diseases yearly and the fact that, as a federal court ruled in 2001, Big Tobacco has "lied, misrepresented and deceived the American public about the devastating health effects of smoking."




Laundry Wafting on the Summer Breeze

Everett, Mass.

Re "Ten Things You Can Do to Shrink Your Carbon Footprint" [March 15]: Clotheslines! Clothes dryers are fire risks, expensive to run, noisy and wear clothes out unnecessarily fast. Drying clothes outdoors in summer leaves them smelling wonderful. Drying them indoors in winter humidifies the house.




Good Art, Bad I.D.

The artist for "Who Speaks for Human Rights?" [April 5, page 23] was accidentally misidentified. He is Edwin Vazquez. Our apologies.