The eXiled’s Yasha Levine seems to think so. And he puts forward a pretty convincing case. Levine tracks Gladwell’s career back to the Washington Post, where he dug up a number of unquestionably pro-tobacco pieces. One of those pieces from 1990 essentially made the argument that curbing smoking would bankrupt social security–by causing people to live longer. Yikes.
But more damning, Levine traced Gladwell’s name back to a tobacco industry “THIRD-PARTY MESSAGE DEVELOPMENT CONTACT LIST.”
For those not familiar with public relations industry lingo, “third-party” refers to a PR technique in which corporate propaganda is funneled through seemingly independent journalists, academics, non-profits, think tanks and other respected “third parties” in order to bolster the credibility of “the message” with the public. Here’s how a Burson-Marsteller PR expert described the third-party technique in 1995:
“For the media and the public, the corporation will be one of the least credible sources of information on its own product, environmental and safety risks. Both these audiences will turn to other experts … to get an objective viewpoint.
“Developing third party support and validation for the basic risk messages of the corporation is essential. This support should ideally come from medical authorities, political leaders, union officials, relevant academics, fire and police officials, environmentalists, regulators.”
Not the kind of list you’d expect a New Yorker staffer to appear on. More at The eXiled.