One of the cases in my new book about public relations ethics concerns the tobacco industry's 20-year effort to sow doubt about the dangers of smoking. It was a diabolically clever campaign dreamed up by the Hill & Knowlton PR firm back in the 1950s.
The idea was to create a scientific-sounding group with two goals: first, to raise questions about research linking cigarettes with cancer and heart disease and second, to find and publicize other causes such as pollution, bad diets, and genetics.
The Wall Street Journal called it "the longest-running disinformation campaign in U.S. business history."
I included this case with some trepidation because it happened so long ago. Apparently, that concern was unwarranted because just this week the technique resurfaced on behalf of a new industry: soft drinks.
Coca-Cola is sponsoring the "Global Energy Balance Network" to suggest exercise -- not cutting calories -- is the best way to control obesity.
Faced with declining sales, Coke -- like the tobacco companies before it -- is trying to sow doubt about the major contribution surgary soft drinks make to obesity, heart disease, and diabetes.
It's the 1950s all over again.