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When CBS lawyers warned Mike Wallace to kill a 60 Minutes interview with an anonymous tobacco company executive - and he obeyed them - it was frightening.
When Wallace along with his 60 Minutes colleague Morley Safer and former Washington Post Editor Ben Bradlee all dumped on the lawyers, it was comforting.
But when it came out that the lawyers were right and that Wallace may have known they were right - then it was more than frightening; it was disillusioning.
Why frightening? For one thing, the lawyers' order came on the heels of ABC News' capitulation before Philip Morris' libel suit for $10 billion, an amount more than the net worth of the company. Lawyers in the CBS case warned that the tobacco company might sue - successfully - for $10 billion to $15 billion, more than twice the worth of CBS.
ABC was in the final stages of being acquired by Disney when it capitulated. The CBS lawyers' warning came only days before CBS was to be acquired by Westinghouse. The question in each case seemed to be: "Would a network with a multi-billion-dollar libel suit hanging over its head become less attractive to a buyer?"
It all echoed Ben Bagdikian's predictions that news operations would lose their integrity as they were scooped into the toy boxes of a decreasing number of huge conglomerate corporations.
But it was worse. As we read Bagdikian over the years, we imagined the news …