OK to Represent American Taliban, But Big Tobacco Verboten

It's enlightening to see what topics Times editors find disturbing and newsworthy and which ones they shrug off or ignore.

New York's new senator, Kirsten Gillibrand, is a Democrat who is nonetheless under strongsuspicionsat the liberal Times for her support of gun rights and her previous representation of a white conservative district. On Friday's front page, she came under fire via a stash of old ammo in a story by Raymond Hernandez and David Kocieniewski. "As New Lawyer, Senator Defended Big Tobacco." Gillibrand is in troublewith the Times for defending Big Tobacco as a lawyer representing Philip Morris back in 1996.

The Philip Morris Company did not like to talk about what went on inside its lab in Cologne, Germany, where researchers secretly conducted experiments exploring the effects of cigarette smoking.

So when the Justice Department tried to get its hands on that research in 1996 to prove that tobacco industry executives had lied about the dangers of smoking, the company moved to fend off the effort with the help of a highly regarded young lawyer named Kirsten Rutnik.

Ms. Rutnik, who now goes by her married name, Gillibrand, threw herself into the work. She traveled to Germany at least twice, interviewing the lab's top scientists, whose research showed a connection between smoking and cancer but was kept far from public view.

She helped contend with prosecution demands for evidence and monitored testimony of witnesses before a grand jury, following up with strategy memos to Philip Morris's general counsel.

The industry beat back the federal perjury investigation, a significant legal victory at the time, but not one that Ms. Gillibrand is eager to discuss.

The Times was looking for remorse:

Asked whether Ms. Gillibrand had any misgivings about representing the tobacco company, [spokesman Matt] Canter responded by e-mail: "Senator Gillibrand worked for the clients that were assigned to her."

The paper's balancing section was very brief:

During her most recent congressional race, Ms. Gillibrand, who is a former smoker, accepted $18,200 in campaign donations from tobacco companies and their executives - putting her among the top dozen House Democrats for such contributions. Many Congressional Democrats do not accept tobacco money.

Mr. Canter said the senator should be assessed based on her record in Congress, where she has voted against the industry's interests on several occasions, including supporting cigarette tax increases to help expand children's health care.

And Todd Henderson, an assistant professor at the University of Chicago Law School, argued that it would be unfair to assess lawyers by whom they represent. "Nobody would want to live in a world in which lawyers are judged by the clients they take," he said.

The Times would certainly not want anyone to use professor Henderson's criteria to judge Obama Justice Department appointee Anthony West. Yesterday the Senate Judiciary Committee endorsed West as the President's nominee to head the Justice Department's Civil Division.

So what's news? West (hat-tip the inimitable humorist James Lileks) was the defense lawyer for John Walker Lindh, the American Taliban fighter captured in Afghanistan after 9-11 and sentenced to 20 years in prison. A search indicates the Times has not breathed a word about the West nomination either online or in print, much less brought up Anthony West's controversial client on the front page, as it did with Gillibrand's ties to evil tobacco companies.

The Times evidently has no trouble with an Obama Justice Department appointee having represented a Taliban fighter and enemy of America, but is immensely bothered by Gillibrand having represented American tobacco companies, who were after all selling a legal product that people purchased freely.