I read this article with interest because I have been on the periphery of some of the events Jon Wiener describes. I would like to take this opportunity to correct the record on a few points.
In April 2008 Dr. Gregg Michel, an historian from Texas, contacted me in my capacity as graduate coordinator in the history department at the University of Florida. He was working for a law firm representing one of the tobacco companies, and he was looking for some advanced students to do microfilm research. He e-mailed me a short ad, offering $20 an hour for part-time research. I passed it on to the graduate students. I believe that he interviewed and hired two students at the time, and added two more some time later.
I later learned that the graduate students were assigned to read specific Florida newspapers for specific years. They were to look for and copy any stories that pertained to tobacco and health. Their instructions were quite clear: they were not to make any decisions about whether the stories supported or contradicted the arguments made by Big Tobacco. They were to identify everything remotely relevant and pass it on to Michel.
The following May I received a phone call from my colleague Betty Smocovitis. Betty had just heard from Stanford’s Robert Proctor, who had named four of our graduate students who were doing research on a tobacco case. She was extraordinarily upset about this news and she was particularly concerned because she feared that Proctor would use this information–including perhaps the names of the specific students–in a way that would reflect poorly on the department. I explained that the students were only doing the most basic low-paid research and were not engaging in any sort of advocacy. But she said that Proctor was a bit of a zealot and it was entirely unclear what he might do with the information. She indicated that it was entirely possible that he would publish their names, and she seemed to feel that it was pretty likely that he would present the department as somehow responsible. I passed this news on to the chair of the department and thought I was done with the whole thing. (A few days later Smocovitis e-mailed that upon reflection she doubted if he would use the specific names, but by then events were underway.)
The chair spoke to one of the students, to be sure that any work she was doing was within university guidelines (it was). He briefed her on the situation and she was justifiably worried that this fellow Robert Proctor would be publishing her name in some deceptive article (rather like Jon Wiener’s). She called Michel, who contacted the lawyers. They apparently smelled a rat.