CBS lawyers block interview with ex-tobacco executive '60 Minutes' schedules revised show Sunday


NEW YORK -- In an atmosphere of heightened tension between cigarette manufacturers and the press, CBS lawyers ordered "60 Minutes" not to broad cast a planned on-the-record interview with a former tobacco company executive who was harshly critical of the industry.

Instead, the news program has substituted a revised report for Sunday that will examine how cigarette manufacturers try to prevent information from reaching the public.

The basis for CBS's concern with the original interview was not a threat of a suit for libel, its executives said. Rather, network officials said they feared, in part, that they might be held legally responsible because the executive had an agreement with the company, Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., not to disclose internal company matters.

But Mike Wallace, the "60 Minutes" correspondent who reported the story, said the recent settle ment of a $15 billion lawsuit by the Philip Morris Companies against ABC News had changed the way CBS lawyers looked at the "60 Minutes" interview.

"The ABC lawsuit did not chill us as journalists from doing the story," Mr. Wallace said. "It did chill the lawyers, who with due diligence had to say, 'We don't want to, in effect, risk putting the company out of business.' "

In interviews yesterday, both Mr. Wallace and Don Hewitt, the executive producer of "60 Minutes," said they agreed with the lawyers' decision and supported the report to be broadcast Sunday night, which focuses largely on Brown & Williamson.

"I'm very comfortable with the decision," Mr. Hewitt said. He added that CBS had not received any threat of a lawsuit from any tobacco company because of the planned interview.

"We just knew that ABC had looked into the barrel of a gun," Mr. Hewitt said.

But in a speech to the National Press Club in Washington on Oct. 17, Mr. Hewitt alluded to a piece he said "60 Minutes" was then planning on the tobacco industry.

"We have a story that we think is solid," he said then. "We don't think anybody could ever sue us for libel.

"There are some twists and turns, and if you get in front of a jury in some states where the people on that jury are all related to people who work in tobacco companies, look out. That's a $15 billion gun pointed at your head.

"We may opt to get out of the line of fire. That doesn't make me proud, but it's not my money."

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