Smoking and Morton Downey, Jr.

Before Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, the conservative media outrage machine was led by abrasive talk show host Morton Downey, Jr., whose programs were a combination of Limbaugh politics and Jerry Springer format, where he would have on political guests who would be goaded to attack each other and create shouting matches, with Downey attacking the liberals and liberal views in the harshest terms. The studio audience would be raucous and conservative audiences loved it.

I had forgotten about Downey but they showed a clip of his show on the documentary Merchants of Doubt (that I reviewed here) where he had on professor Stanton Glantz who was one of the people who studied and published research on the dangers of smoking and second-hand smoke. Glantz was the recipient of a huge trove of the tobacco industry’s internal documents smuggled out by an anonymous whistleblower that showed that they knew that tobacco was addictive and harmful to health even as they were publicly denying it. His publication of the research infuriated the industry and smokers like Downey.

You can see a different show that Downey had on smoking and even just the first few minutes gives you a pretty good idea of his show and views.

In the clip in the film, on his show Downey sneered at Glantz and told the audience to compare his looks with Glantz’s and boasted to the cheering audience that he smoked four packs of cigarettes a day and yet looked twenty years younger that him.

What the film did not mention was that in 1996 Downey was diagnosed with lung cancer and had to have one lung removed. The recognition of his disease caused Downey to completely reverse his position and he became a staunch opponent of smoking, accusing the tobacco companies of lying about its product, until his death from lung cancer in 2001 at the age of 68.


  1. jws1 says

    There was an ’80s horror film that featured several separate little horror stories, sorta like the Twilight Zone movie. One of the stories starred this Downey guy as himself: an obnoxious t.v. host who won’t listen to anyone.

    (Spoiler alert)

    He ends up getting killed trying to get out of the haunted house he wanted to do a show in.

  2. Holms says

    How bizarre, it’s been known since the 1800’s that smoking does something deleterious to the lungs even if the particulars were not yet known. The classic smoker’s cough was even referenced in some Sherlock Holmes stories!

  3. says

    @ Holms
    Forget the 1800’s (well at least put them on the back boiler), King James VI of Scotland and I of England wrote A Counterblaste to Tobacco in 1604!!!

  4. says

    Nothing changes people’s opinions faster than finding themselves -- involuntarilty -- on the other side of the discussion (see also: anti-abortionists who seek abortions).

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