Monday, June 04, 2012

Announcement of the First Entrant into the Benjamin Church Hypocrisy Hall of Shame

Today I am announcing the induction of the first entrant into what I am calling the Benjamin Church Hypocrisy Hall of Shame in tobacco control, a hall to include the most striking examples of hypocrisy in the anti-smoking movement. The Benjamin Church Hypocrisy Hall of Shame is a lifetime achievement award. It does not result from just a single instance of hypocrisy, but from either a pattern of hypocrisy or a single event that is of such importance that it merits such a designation.

First, a word about the man and event after which the Hall is named.

Benjamin Church was an emigrant from England - a carpenter - who, in the mid-1600's, settled along Narragansett Bay in what is now Little Compton, Rhode Island, living adjacent to and among a group of Native Americans known as the Sakonnets. Church was the grandson of Mayflower passenger Richard Warren. At the start of King Philip's War in 1675, Plymouth colony authorities put out a call for "nonhostile" Indians to turn themselves in. In return, they would be granted amnesty. In response, several hundred Indians surrendered to authorities in Plymouth. But instead of granting them amnesty, they were rounded up and shipped off as slaves to Spain.

Benjamin Church vehemently opposed the enslavement of the Indians. In his "Entertaining Passages Relating to Philip's War," Church condemned the enslavement of Indians, calling it "an action so hateful ... that [I] opposed it to the loss of the good will and respect  of some that before were [my] good friends." (as quoted in Philbrick N. Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War. New York: Penguin Books, 2007)

The Rest of the Story

One year later, in 1676, Benjamin Church was mopping up the final Indian combatants, including King Philip himself. However, he did not have enough money to pay his soldiers. He entered into an agreement with the Plymouth authorities that for as many Indians as he could round up as prisoners to be enslaved and sent off the Caribbean sugar plantations, he and his soldiers would receive half of the sale proceeds. Church then went on to capture and enslave more Indians than any other New England military figure in history.

So just one year after condemning the enslavement of Indians, Church engaged in exactly such an enterprise, and profited from it. Apparently, enslaving Indians was wrong, unless you needed money, in which case it suddenly became acceptable.

It is this glaring example of hypocrisy after which the anti-smoking Hypocrisy Hall of Shame is named.

The First Inductee

In 1998, the Attorneys General of 46 states praised themselves for having negotiated a litigation settlement with Big Tobacco that they said had brought to tobacco companies to their knees. At the time of the settlement, Florida's Attorney General - Bob Butterworth - proclaimed that "'The Marlboro Man will be riding into the sunset on Joe Camel."

Butterworth cast himself as a hero who was fighting Big Tobacco. He had filed a lawsuit against the tobacco companies which was settled in 1995, with hundreds of millions of dollars coming into the state to be used (supposedly) for an anti-smoking campaign.

Butterworth now boasts that "he was a leader in the multi-state litigation against the tobacco industry, bringing $11 billion to the state, and was voted the top Attorney General in the nation by his peers." He also calls himself "one of Florida’s most distinguished public servants."

The Rest of the Story

In 2000, as the tobacco companies were facing a possible multi-billion dollar punitive damage judgment against them in the Engle class action lawsuit, Attorney General Bob Butterworth urged the Florida legislature to adopt a law capping the bonds that the tobacco companies would have to pay in the case of a huge punitive damage award in the Engle case, which is exactly what occurred (both the huge punitive damage award and the enactment of the law that protected the tobacco companies, limiting the amount of the appeals bond). Thus, it is clear that Butterworth's primary motivation was not protecting the public's health, but protecting the fiscal health of the state.

This action, spearheaded by the Attorney General who signed the settlement of his state's lawsuit with the tobacco industry and claimed to be motivated solely by public health concerns, turned out to give momentum to a slew of similar legislation in other states, which has limited the amount of money tobacco companies need to pay to appeal huge punitive damages awards.

In 1995 Butterworth was supposedly fighting Big Tobacco, trying to achieve justice for Florida's smokers who had been damaged by cigarettes. In 1998, he was supposedly doing the same thing for smokers throughout the nation. But in 2000, Butterworth betrayed the public's interest as well as the interest of his former clients by switching sides and fighting to protect Big Tobacco profits at the expense of the litigation rights - established by statute - of Florida citizens.

Butterworth successfully destroyed those rights, and that action spearheaded efforts across the nation to remove litigation rights from citizens, making it much more difficult to seek justice via class action lawsuits. While calling himself a "distinguished public servant," the rest of the story is that Butterworth distinguished himself by betraying the public's interest to protect the profits of wealthy corporations.

Butterworth's blatant hypocrisy makes him a perfect first inductee into the Benjamin Church Hypocrisy Hall of Shame.

No comments: