Objective: To review the principal sub-texts contained in all press coverage and references to the tobacco industry in a major Sydney newspaper over five years.
Method and sample: After excluding value-neutral financial page reports, thematic analysis of all value-laden references to the tobacco industry in the Sydney Morning Herald, January 1993 to December 1997.
Results: Some 155 articles containing 221 separate references to the tobacco industry were identified. Eight sub-texts (callous merchants of death; conspiracy/cover-up; blood money; toxic pied pipers; corporate leviathans; beleaguered/legitimate industry; index case of unethical or corrupt practice; and bumbling fools) accounted for all 221 references. Eighty-nine per cent of references to the industry framed it negatively. Journalists or regular newspaper columnists authored 56% of the references. Only 5% of comments were attributed to tobacco company sources.
Conclusions: In press reports, the tobacco industry is routinely framed as a corporate pariah by journalists, the public, government spokespeople and tobacco control advocates.
Implications: Routine negative publicity about the tobacco industry is likely to significantly reduce its public credibility and political influence.