Doubt is our product since it is the best means of competing with the ‘body of fact’ that exists in the mind of the general public. It is also the means of establishing a controversy.

Memorandum, Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp: via Legacy Tobacco Documents Library, UCSF, Market Failure in the Marketplace of Ideas.

The memo is nine pages, double spaced. The typed, courier font blisters and breaks according to the expected irregularities of the mimeograph. Reading at a slight skew, the lines jerk up and down from page to page as if darting over imperceptible obstacles, though most likely from a clerk’s failure to scan them at the proper angle

The author yields little if any indication of any foreknowledge of the harmful effects of smoking. Instead, he offers a novel analysis of customers, products, message, and competition: “our customer I have defined as the mass public, our product is doubt, our message as truth — well stated, and our competition is the body of anti-cigarette fact that exists in the public mind.”

The writer later qualifies how truth must be the message: “Truth is our message because of its power to withstand a conflict and sustain a controversy. If in our pro-cigarette efforts we stick to well documented fact, we can dominate a controversy and operate with the confidence of justifiable self-interest.”

It’s hard not to respect the careful thought that went into so sinister a strategy. The emphasis on revealing the healthful effects of smoking. The importance of seeking the truth. The bald refutation of mounting evidence and the discipline to follow through. It is competent, all too competent.

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