Tobacco Libel Suit Against ABC Brings New Rulings
THE judge in the Philip Morris Company's $10 billion libel suit against ABC rejected an effort by the tobacco company to narrow the lawsuit's scope and blocked ABC from obtaining information it wanted about other tobacco companies' practices.
Philip Morris filed the suit in response to a report last February on ABC's ``Day One'' newsmagazine that it and other tobacco companies ``spike'' cigarettes with extra nicotine to hook smokers.
In one ruling Dec. 30, Judge T. J. Markow rejected Philip Morris's effort to focus the lawsuit on how nicotine is added in making cigarettes.
The cigarettemaker says that it should win the case if it can show that it doesn't put more nicotine in a cigarette than occurs naturally in tobacco.
The company contends that whether it intended to addict smokers is irrelevant if it didn't spike cigarettes in the first place.
ABC responded that restoring nicotine that could have been left out shows that the gist of its account was true.
In that context, the reason for adding the nicotine is crucial. The judge asked: .Is it to make the product more appealing, or to addict the smoker? ``If the purpose is benign, Philip Morris wins. If to addict, it loses,'' he said. ``Its motive in adding nicotine back to the reconstituted product is relevant.''
Stephen H. Sachs, an attorney representing ABC, said he was pleased with Markow's rejection of Philip Morris's effort to narrow the suit's scope.
In the other ruling, Markow said ABC cannot obtain three decades of information about nicotine from other major tobacco companies.
Although the TV program was aimed at the tobacco industry in general, Philip Morris was identified specifically, Markow said.
ABC and its reporters are ``bound by the information they possessed about Philip Morris at the time of the broadcast, not what they knew about or discover about other manufacturers,'' Markow wrote.
A hearing is set for Jan. 6 on Philip Morris's effort to learn the identity of ``Deep Cough,'' the confidential source ABC cited in its broadcast. The trial is scheduled to begin June 5. The Biggest National News Stories of 1994
ACCORDING to a survey of news-media executives in the United States, the top 10 news stories last year were:
1. The trial of football hero O.J. Simpson on double murder charges.
2. The November US election that gave control of Congress to Republicans.
3. The pro-baseball strike and hockey lockout.
4. Susan Smith, the Union, S.C., secretary who insisted her sons had been kidnapped, then admitted drowning the boys.
5. The attack on Olympic skater Nancy Kerrigan, and the prosecution of her rival, Tonya Harding, and her associates.
6. US troops' peaceful return of Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide from exile.
7. The dead-end pursuit of universal health insurance for Americans.
8. The Northridge, Calif., earthquake.
9. The war in Rwanda and its aftermath.
10. Palestinians replacing Israeli occupiers in the Gaza Strip and Jericho.