From my recent review of internet postings related to Associate Attorney General Robert McCallum, it appears that the public is largely confused about the exact nature of McCallum's prior employment with respect to tobacco industry clients. As I previously predicted, statements like those issued by Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights, which inform the public that McCallum is a "former tobacco industry lawyer," appear to have been successful in misleading the public about his affiliation with the tobacco industry as well as the seriousness of his potential conflict of interest in the DOJ tobacco case.
A systematic review of the way McCallum is being portrayed in internet postings, which I think likely reflects the public's understanding of the nature of his prior employment with the tobacco companies and of the severity of any potential conflict of interest in his litigating against the industry now, suggests that there is probably a serious misunderstanding out there concerning the facts of the matter.
I will not discuss every example out there, but here is a sampling of the types of claims that are being made and the nature of public discourse about the issue:
The Rest of the Story
Before I am attacked, let me emphasize two things that I am not saying:
First, I am not saying that McCallum does not have a conflict of interest or that he didn't commit any ethical violations by involving himself in the tobacco litigation. I'm simply stating that I think it's important for him and his actions to be judged on the actual facts of the matter, rather than on an incorrect perception or understanding of the facts.
Second, I am not saying that it was solely groups like ANR that are responsible for any misunderstanding that the public has. Newspapers, like the Washington Post, carried the misleading statement that McCallum is a former tobacco industry lawyer, which appears to have originated in Congressmen Waxman and Meehan's letter to the Inspector General. Nevertheless, if anti-smoking groups are contributing to the spread of this misinformation and they are, at the same time, aware that their communications may be misleading, then I do think they share in the responsibility for misleading the public.
What my review suggests to me is that the public tends to think that McCallum formerly represented tobacco clients and is now litigating against those clients. That would be a conflict of interest so severe and an ethical violation so egregious that I think it could possibly cause irreparable harm to McCallum's character and career.
Do I think McCallum should be spared from harm to his character and career? I don't know. I think we need to wait until the investigation has been completed to cast judgment on him and his role in the case. But what I do think is indisputable is that he deserves to be judged based on the facts. And in this case, the fact is that he never represented R.J. Reynolds in litigation. But in my opinion, the majority of the public who is familiar with this story believes that he has.
I do not think that is just. And I do not, therefore, find it acceptable that anti-smoking groups may have contributed to the public's misperception in a way that may inappropriately denigrate the reputation and character of an individual.