Mary Lasker's LBJ Connections

LBJ's Lasker Foundation Award for Public Service, 1965.

LBJ Lasker Award / Lasker Foundation

Mary Lasker's connections with LBJ were reportedly the closest she had with any president during her fifty years of behind-the-scenes rule. Johnson's first speech on health research in 1959 was actually written by Lasker lobbyist Mike Gorman (Drew, 1967). "In the early 1960s Johnson had traveled to New York to enlist socialite Mary Lasker in his campaign to win Eleanor Roosevelt's endorsement... Lasker met the same skepticism [as she had with Roosevelt] when she approached Dorothy Schiff, publisher of the New York Post. 'It was very hard to convince people that he was a genuine liberal, as I was sure he was,' Lasker recalled. Had Johnson spent more time courting liberals like Roosevelt and Schiff, Lasker believed that 'he could have convinced them. But he was too busy as majority leader, and the convincing couldn't be done secondhand.'" (The Walls of Jericho, by Robert Mann. 1996 Harcourt Brace & Co. p. 270.) White House tapes released by the LBJ Presidential Library show that her contact with the new administration began as early as December 11, 1963, less than a month after JFK's assassination.

12-11-63 tape (Mary Lasker's secretary)

Several tapes deal with LBJ's attempted appointment of Mary Lasker to be the ambassador to Finland in January 1964.

1-20-64 7:15 pm? (Dean Rusk)
1-20-64 7:50 pm (Mary Lasker)
1-20-64 8:45 pm (Mary Lasker)
1-20-64 9:25 pm (Dean Rusk)

In this 1996 CNN story on LBJ's efforts to appoint women to high government jobs, Mary Lasker is misidentified as "the director of the National Institutes of Health" (!). While she served on more NIH Advisory Boards than anyone else, she never held this position. So much for fact checking at CNN. Someday, perhaps someone will break the news to CNN that what she really was was the most powerful special interest lobbyist of all time. Then again, perhaps CNN lies on purpose.

1996 CNN story on LBJ appontments of women

Later that month, LBJ sought the creation of a National Heart, Cancer and Stroke Commission, as requested by Mary Lasker; "Daily Diary indicates LBJ is meeting with Mary Lasker at time of call."

1-24-64 12:50 pm (Myer Feldman)

"...Office conversation about Mary Lasker and her interest in health policy; Daily Diary indicates LBJ is meeting with Michael DeBakey at 12:55P" [DeBakey is in the Lasker Syndicate inner circle.]

3-20-64 ? (Larry O'Brien)

Who is running the country anyway? "Lasker suggests LBJ meet with Andre Meyer who is in Washington DC to meet with task force on balance of payments; LBJ asks Lasker about UN project."

4-27-64 10:55 am (Mary Lasker)

LBJ appointment of Dr. Edward Dempsey, as requested by Mary Lasker.

6-29-64 11:54 am (Myer Feldman)

[At LBJ Ranch] "Lasker congratulates LBJ on election; LBJ teases about his jealousy of Adlai Stevenson and HHH; Michael DeBakey's answers to story on heart attack survival rates; Lady Bird Johnson asks Lasker for her help on future activities as First Lady."

11-05-64 2:42 pm (Mary Lasker)

To his credit, LBJ evidently did not allow Mary Lasker to use the White House for fund raising.

3-3-65 10:10 am (Leonard Goldstein)

These White House tapes were actually intended not to be released until 50 years after LBJ's death. However, some of them were ordered released by Congressional legislation in connection with the investigation into Kennedy's assassination. Others were relased by court order during a lawsuit. There are many more tapes that haven't yet been released.

Oral Histories at the LBJ Library

Douglass Cater Interview

In an oral history at the LBJ Library, Douglass Cater was asked pointed questions about "what has been called the health syndicate, the noble conspiracy, the benevolent plotters, at the center of which was Mary Lasker. I noticed that among the first memos to President Johnson that you wrote as a health advisor -- this was in February of 1965 -- you wrote a note to the effect that you would be happy to meet with Mary Lasker. It appears to me that you were closer and more involved probably than anybody in the administration with Mary Lasker and Mike Gorman, and I wondered had you been briefed, when you began to take over health activities, by Myer Feldman about Mary Lasker's interests, or were you aware when you came to work in health about her contributions? In other words, did you perceive of her as a leader of a group who had a forceful interest at that time?"

Cater's response was evasive: "I can't remember with any precision how fast my knowledge of her role developed. I am sure Mike Feldman must have mentioned it to me, although I don't remember that he gave me an elaborate debriefing as he left, and I sort of picked up that particular portfolio." He claimed he worked on the education message. "Now, his relations with Mrs. Lasker were interesting to me in the role I played. I noticed in effective operators on the Washington scene that they try to establish direct relations with the president, but they realize that they can't overuse the direct line too much so they want fall-back resources, too. Mary was not interested in me because of the color of my eyes. She found it useful to have someone she could use as a communication channel. I encouraged her. I found that her interests were wide and, from my point of view, good, that the President had a high admiration for her." [Pages 6-7 of document]

Cater Oral History IV

In fact, Douglass Cater had been the Washington Editor and then the National Affairs Editor of The Reporter magazine from 1950 until he joined the Johnson administration in 1964. His book, Power in Washington, published in 1964, was about the lobbying cliques that control certain areas of policy. It is not credible that he could have failed to realize what was going on. Presumably he was one of them. His biography also shows that he worked at the Office of Strategic Services, the predecessor of the CIA, during World War II, where he may have met William Donovan, Ernst L. Wynder, and/or Laurence A. Tisch. Also, "As special education advisor to President Lyndon Johnson, he played a central role in developing and passing the legislation that created the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and its spinoffs PBS and NPR."

Cater biography / AUM
Cater memorial / Current 1995

Cater was a director of The Aspen Institute circa 1975. His wife Libby was on the National Advisory Council of the Addiction Research Foundation, founded by Avram Goldstein in 1974 "to discover the physiological causes of Narcotics and Tobacco Addiction" [sic]. Actually, Golstein's past experience was in narcotics and the facility did not have a nicotine lab. But Goldstein expected the tobacco industry to give him the $400,000 he said he needed to create one, and then to fund his endeavor to portray smoking as the same as heroin addiction. Other members of the National Advisory Council included Sen. Alan Cranston; two-time Assistant Secretary for Health Philip R. Lee; Art Linkletter; Mrs. Florence Mahoney; Mrs. Nan Tucker McEvoy, former Presidential appointee to UNESCO and heir of the San Francisco Chronicle. Directors included Martin E. Packard, Corporate Vice President of Varian Associates and a former trustee of the San Francisco Foundation (founded by Lasker Foundation director Daniel Koshland Jr.); and Wilbur Watkins, former Executive Administrator of the Palo Alto Medical Clinic, founded by Lee's father.

S. Douglass Cater Biographical Note / LBJ Library
Brochure, Addiction Research Foundation / UCSF (pdf, 23 pp)

Larry O'Brien Interview

O'Brien's oral history illustrates the reflexive kowtowing to the anti-smokers, the unhesitating betrayal of smokers for the sake of political appearances, by smokers in positions of power, complete lack of skepticism about the Surgeon General's health claims, limp resignation to anti-smoker victory, and the double standard applied to the tobacco lobby versus the so-called health lobby. The subject was the use of Post Office trucks for anti-smoking propaganda. O'Brien says, "I came up with a great idea as postmaster general: why didn't we have this anti-smoking [campaign]? Being an avid smoker all my life and remaining one throughout this period, nevertheless, I thought that this was a good public service announcement to make use of the panels, and I proceeded to issue the directive. Well, the group came in on me... from the tobacco states, which I hadn't even thought of, and from the Hill. As a fellow who can be accommodating when it becomes necessary, I agreed to a compromise on the use of the message on the trucks so it wouldn't be used in the tobacco states. I think it probably only involved North Carolina and Virginia. But whatever it was, that was the way we worked it out. At least my conscience wasn't totally troubled, because if that eliminated a few hundred trucks, we still had thousands around the country with the message." [Pages 19-20 of document]

What about his conscience on behalf of smokers? O'Brien is so accustomed to pandering to the anti-smokers that he has ceased to be aware of it. His admission that he "hadn't even thought of" what he calls "the sensitivity of some people in this area," meaning pro-tobacco concerns, contradicts his cliches about the supposedly "extremely strong, vociferous and hard-hitting" tobacco lobby. If they really were, he would have been automatically kissing their backsides instead of the anti-smokers'. He limply observes that "despite all that, the non-smokers [sic] seem to be making progress as time goes on. I now look around every restaurant I sit in to see whether or not the party at the next table look like people who might attack me if I light a cigarette. I have become very sensitive... They'll get to it totally one of these days." And the more "sensitive" he became to the anti-smokers, the more callous he became to smokers. It's because of sniveling, hollow men like Larry O'Brien that the bastards have gotten away with their crimes.

O'Brien Oral History VII

The anti-smoking racketeers pretend that there was an alliance between the AMA and the tobacco industry. Lawrence O'Brien was asked point blank, "Was there an alliance between the AMA and the tobacco industry? The AMA seemed very reluctant to affirm any link between smoking and cancer even though individual doctors certainly recognized it, and I'm just wondering if this was a trade-off for Medicare." O'Brien recalls no formal alliance, and explains, "How could a couple of hundred thousand doctors block for two decades this obvious approach to social progress? It was the conservative view regarding government involvement. 'That is not,' they said, 'the role of the federal government. It is an imposition on the rights of individual citizens, in this case doctors.' Wherever there can be assistance rendered to those in dire need, the private sector must handle it.' But in any event, that was the reason why it was blocked so effectively for so long.'" [But, in the long term, the Medicare program was the singularly important cause of skyrocketing health costs, which made medical care unaffordable to many people and necessitated still more collectivized "solutions."] [Page 21 of the document]

O'Brien Oral History XI

US Government Memorandum from Surgeon General William H. Stewart to HEW Secretary, Feb. 8, 1968 [presumably John W. Gardner]. Subject: Poster on Physician Smoking for Use on US Mail Trucks; stating that the Public Health Service's claim that 100,000 physicians had stopped smoking was based on a survey by National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, whose director of research ended up at the National Center for Health Statistics as a close associate of Dorothy P. Rice, the mother of the smoking costs lie.

O'Brien and the "Quadriad Group" of four unknown persons recomended the creation of the President's Commission on Postal Reorganization in 1968. Its chairman was Frederick R. Kappel of AT&T, and it remade the postal service in the image of AT&T. Other members included W. Beverly Murphy of Campbell Soup; George P. Baker, Dean of Harvard Business School; David E. Bell, President of the Ford Foundation; Fred J. Burch, President of General Electric; David Ginsburg, partner of Ginsburg and Feldman; J. Irwin Miller, Chairman of Cummins Engine Company; Ralph A. Peterson, President of the Bank of America; and George Meany, President of the AFL-CIO.

Sharon Francis Interview

The Committee for a More Beautiful Capitol

Mary Lasker's "Beautification" program gave her connections to many important officials through their wives. Lasker's racist attitudes surfaced in an interview with Sharon Francis: "...there were two points of view within the Beautification Committee, the downtown floral point of view and the improve the needy neighborhoods point of view." Mary Lasker opposed using the society's money in needy neighborhoods, and "just very firmly put her feet down. There were a very few instances where the society finally threw a bone to the blacks and supported that kind of project, but very few in proportion of the numbers that came up before them." And, after the riots, "to Mary Lasker's point of view this just showed that the black people were unreliable, and it wasn't worth investing in their part of the city because they didn't care for things. They'd want to tear it up. I took enormous interest after the 1968 riots in the fact that no parks, no trees were damaged whatsoever." [Pages 49-51 of document]

Stephen Currier was a major funding source for the beautification projects, particularly Mary Lasker's Larry Halprin projects. Currier was married to Audrey Mellon Bruce Currier, the daughter of David K.E. Bruce, whom Paul Hoffman had put in charge of the French mission of the Marshall Plan, and Bruce's first wife, Ailsa Mellon, heiress of the Mellon fortune. [Stephen Currier was also a major funding source in the civil rights movement, whom Malcolm X denounced in his speech, "The Chickens Come Home to Roost."] The Currier's plane disappeared in the Caribbean in 1967. It was never found, even though the US Navy was sent out to look for it.

Sharon Francis Oral History I

Victor Weingarten

Victor Weingarten was Stephen Currier's public relations consultant, and he handled the business arrangements for Lawrence Halperin's consultancy. In the 1940s, Weingarten had been an associate editor of George Seldes's "In Fact," which is celebrated by the anti-smoking crowd for supposedly "exposing" the tobacco industry. In the 1970s, he was involved in Children's Television Workshop health propaganda, and led the American Cancer Society's National Commission on Smoking and Public Policy.

The Victor Weingarten Page

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cast 02-22-04