American Scandal

New episodes come out every Tuesday for free, with 1-week early access for Wondery+ subscribers.

Every scandal begins with a lie. But the truth will come out. And then comes the fallout and the outrage.

Scandals have shaped America since its founding. From business and politics to sports and society, we look on aghast as corruption, deceit and ambition bring down heroes and celebrities, politicians and moguls. And when the dust finally settles, we’re left to wonder: how did this happen? Where did they trip up, and who is to blame? From the creators of American History Tellers, Business Wars and Tides of History comes American Scandal, where we take you deep into the heart of America’s dark side to look at what drives someone to break the rules and what happens when they’re caught. Hosted by Lindsay Graham.

Big Tobacco | Smoking Guns | 1

Big Tobacco | Smoking Guns | 1

Tue, 07 Jul 2020 09:00

Merrell Williams stumbles on a terrible secret, one that's been hidden for decades. Jeffrey Wigand starts a new job with the tobacco industry, only to come face to face with a bitter truth. Soon, both will have to make a choice that could put them in danger.

Listen ad-free on Wondery+ here

See Privacy Policy at and California Privacy Notice at

Listen to Episode

Copyright © © 2018 Wondery, Inc.

Read Episode Transcript

It's December 15th, 1953. John Hill walks down Fifth Avenue in New York City, carrying a black leather briefcase in hand. In the street, cab drivers hawk their horns and pedestrians weave through the traffic. Hill takes a moment to compose himself. He straightens his spotted blue tie and adjusts his wireframe glasses. Then he lowers his chin and trudges over frosty concrete toward the gleaming doorways of the Plaza Hotel. Hill is 63 years old. He's well aware that right now he's about to walk into the most important business meeting of his life. Hill steps out of an elevator and spots a man with a cigarette in his hand. The man is named Bert Goss and he works at Hill's public relations firm. He'll grease him with a knot. You know, you really shouldn't smoke Bert. You're kidding, right? You think I'm going to get sick? I'm not talking about your health. The God knows you could use a little exercise. No, in a few minutes, the foremost powerful tobacco men in the country will walk out of that elevator. But only one of them makes the cigarette in your hand. The other three, they'll be soar as you for not buying their product. So put it out. Goss nods and right as he stumps out his cigarette, the elevator chimes. The four men have arrived. He'll put on his biggest winning smile. Then he greets the men, claps them on the shoulders and leaves them into a suite with a view of the entire city. He'll shut the door. As the men take their seats, he begins. Gentlemen, I'd like to thank you for joining me for what is truly a historic occasion. I never thought I'd see the heads of Philip Morris and American tobacco sitting down with Benson and Hedges and the US tobacco company. I know you aren't allies or partners, but two weeks ago everything changed, didn't it? He'll pick up the latest issue of the medical journal Cancer Research. This report says that cigarettes are dangerous, that they cause cancer, that they kill people. And unfortunately for you, Americans are starting to believe it. Joseph Coleman of Benson and Hedges speaks up. I'm of half a mind to say cigarettes might be risky, but who cares? People drink themselves the death all the time and liquor is still going strong. So let them regulate us like they regulate the booze companies. Hill shakes his head. With all due respect, Mr. Coleman, I don't think increased government interference is what you need. What you need is a good public relations campaign. That's why we all came here today, right? You wanted to get results. Executive from US tobacco crosses his arms. I was invited to attend this meeting, but I'm afraid I still don't know how public relations can help us win this particular fight. Hill has been waiting for this question since the second the men walked in, he straightens his suco, issues a sly grin. I'm going to help you fight fire with fire. We'll get out there and say that these scientists are lying. Then we'll tell people you have your own scientists with different findings about smoking. Coleman of Benson and Hedges leans forward. We could call it something like the Committee for Public Information. Yeah, like that. But we have to understand this. Every day in every town in America, there's a high school kid about to buy his very first pack of cigarettes. You watch the girls that think he's Marlon Brando. Kids like that, they're the future of your industry. And we can't let the fear of getting cancer one day overshadow the importance of looking like Marlon Brando today. Gentlemen, that is public relations. And that is how we're going to protect your products and most importantly, your profits. All I need you to do is say yes. And then we go to war for you. The men in the room exchange glances. Then they turn back to Hill and nod. He'll maintain a cool, confident expression, but inside heat is glowing. This project might be the biggest of his life. It's his chance to control the message, to shape how Americans think about themselves and their health. It's also a major payday. It might only be mid December, but in the Plaza Hotel for John Hill, Christmas has just come early. American scandal is sponsored by the new ABC drama Alaska Daily. When an Indigenous woman goes missing in Alaska, it sparks new questions about other missing and murdered Indigenous women. And that's where the thrilling new ABC drama Alaska Daily begins and where it's headed will have you on the edge of your seat. Two time Academy Award winner Hillary Swank stars as I lean a veteran reporter who joins a team of local journalists working to bring the truth to light from Academy award winning screenwriter Tom McCarthy Alaska Daily premieres Thursday, October 6th on ABC and streams next day on Hulu. If you're into true crime, the generation why podcast is essential listening. We started this podcast over 10 years ago to dissect some of the craziest and most notable murders, crimes and conspiracy theories together. And we'd love for you to join us. Follow the generation why podcast on Amazon Music or wherever you listen to podcasts. Some wondering I'm Lindsey Graham and this is American scandal. Today America's relationship with cigarettes is far different than it was in the 1950s. Smoking has been banned in restaurants and bars in airplanes and offices and factories. There are no more billboards with cartoon camels or rugged cowboys. Sigarettes now come labeled with severe warnings about their effects on human health. But this wasn't always the case. For much of its history, the tobacco industry operated with impunity. The average American belief smoking was harmless if not glamorous. Then reports emerged in the 1950s suggesting smoking was in fact dangerous and addictive. America's biggest cigarette manufacturers went on the counteroffensive and refused to admit the cigarette's pose serious health risks at all. The industry crushed many of its fiercest critics and by the 1990s, it had grown into a $200 billion year industry while remaining largely unregulated. Then a shift took place. Bill Clinton, the anti tobacco governor of Arkansas, was elected president in 1992. And soon his FDA was emboldened to take a stand against cigarette makers. At the same time, employees inside tobacco companies and state politicians saw a new opportunity to make big tobacco pay. This is the story of those people who went head to head with big tobacco, fighting one of the most consequential wars in American history. This is episode one, Smoking Guns. This January 6, 1988, Merrill Williams braces against the cold as he races toward his new office in Louisville, Kentucky. He's late for his first day of work. As he runs down the street, Williams can feel his age creeping up on him. He's 47, wearing an ill fitting suit and worn out dress shoes. His feet hurt and he reminds himself that he'll buy new shoes once he gets his first paycheck. Monty has been tight ever since his second divorce. Finally, the pain in his chest is too much. Williams stops, puts his hand on his knees and tries to catch his breath. He winces as he looks up at the towering offices of Wyatt, Tarant and Combs. It's one of the most respected law firms in Louisville. He has to make a good impression. It's paramount. This is his chance. Williams rides the elevator to the 10th floor. But when he steps out, he wonders if he's in the wrong place. He finds a series of gray cubicles, but all the employees inside clearly aren't working. Instead, one man roars with laughter into a speakerphone. Another guy flicks a folded up triangle of paper, which goes flying between another colleague's index fingers. Williams stands there, dumbstruck. It's then that he hears his name and turns. A man with glasses is peeking his head out of a cubicle. He waves at Williams, calling him over. Williams is starting today as the firm's newest paralegal. After a warm welcome, the man explains that Williams will help the firm's biggest client, Brown and Williamson. It's a global tobacco company, with headquarters just blocks away. Williams nods. He knows B&W. They make a brand of cigarettes known as Cool, with a K, and he smokes them religiously. The man says Williams is going to help dig through all B&W legal documents and sort them into categories. Tobacco companies get sued from time to time, and the firm wants to make sure all the paperwork is properly archived. Williams new colleague then lowers his voice, saying the big bosses never come down here to check on them. That makes this an ideal work environment. In fact, there are only two rules the man says. Never make copies, and never take any of the documents off site. Other than that, Williams can work however he wants the man says, gives him a wink. With that, the man hands Williams a box of documents and a highlighter. Williams carries the heavy box over to his new desk. He removes the lid and selects the sheet at random. It's from 1981 and a little interest, something about setting up a launch at a local country club. He puts the paper down and selects another. It's a quarterly report from last year. Williams continues digging through the box well into mid afternoon, reading and sorting. Finally, he picks up a sheet and notes the date in the upper corner. July 1963, Williams gazes into the distance he would have been 22 back then. That feels like a lifetime ago. Williams starts to read, then stops, and thinks for a minute. Now this can't be right. He reads it again. The report says that tobacco has unique, tranquilizing effects that nicotine is addictive. It notes that brown and Williamson is in the business of selling nicotine and addictive drug. Williams lowers the page slowly. Nicotine can't be addictive, he thinks. Even he knows that tobacco makers have said as much. They say that smoking is just a habit. Then you can quit with just a little willpower. But Williams mouth goes dry as he considers what this might mean. If what he's just read is true, the tobacco companies have been lying to the American public. Suddenly, for reasons he can't fully explain, Williams grabs a pen and a post it note. He josts down a note and says July 1963, nicotine addictive. He rips the note from his pad, folds it, and slips it into his pocket. He looks around. No one seems to have noticed. So his jaw set, Williams flunches both hands in the box once more. It's January 1989 in Louisville, Kentucky. Jeffrey Wigan sits in an office on the 26th floor of the Brown and Williams and office tower. Across from him sits Alan Heard, the company's outgoing director of research and development. Wigan adjusts his silver rimmed aviator glasses as he tries to contain a surge of excitement. Today is his first day at Brown and Williams and the tobacco giant. He feels eager to get started in his new role as he takes over from Heard as the head of R&D. He's also eager to start getting his paychecks. 300,000 a year is not bad. His wife, LeCretia is happy about it too. She's a formidable woman with a taste for the finer things. But beyond the paycheck, Wigan is thinking about his young daughter, who's had serious health issues since she was born. This job will ensure that she gets world class care. Alan Heard picks up Wigan's resume and reviews some of the highlights. Wigan's doctorate in biochemistry, his background in healthcare consulting. Heard says that Wigan is clearly a hard worker and he'll make a great addition to the company. But then Heard clears his throat and lowers his voice. He asks why Wigan decided to join B&W. Typically men from the medical field want nothing to do with the tobacco business. Wigan nods. This isn't the first time he's been asked this question. Just last week, his brother called to double check that he was serious about making this move. And his brother issued words of caution. Once Wigan joined Brown and Williamson, he could never return to healthcare. To the medical community, Big Tobacco was the dark side. Wigan looks directly at Heard as he responds. He did give his choice a lot of thought and he's taking the position because he respects what B&W is trying to do. He likes that the company is working to make smoking less risky by developing a safer cigarette. Who would be a great service to smokers? Wigan notices that for a brief moment Heard stairs had him blankly. Then he seems to catch himself. He smiles brightly and announces that it's time to tour the lab. It's probably not the most cutting edge lab in the world, but he knows why Wigan will make do. It's ten months later, mid October 1989. Jeffrey Wigan is walking into the office of Kendrick Wells. Wells is an attorney with Brown and Williamson and had laughed a message saying that Wigan should drop by. As Wigan heads through the office building, he wonders if this has something to do with the conference he just attended in Vancouver. He spent several days meeting with other scientists. They were employees of B&W's parent company, British American Tobacco. They had a series of exciting meetings about the future of tobacco. Wigan still feels a glow, thinking about all the ways they're working together to create a safer cigarette. Wigan pushes open the door to Wells office. It can? Now, good time? Well, you know, when you're this busy there's never a good time, but you know, anyways, come on in. I hear that. Wigan sits down and smiles at the attorney. I just want you to know whatever it is. I didn't do it. Well, tell that to the judge. Yeah, so I got the official minutes of your R&D summit in Vancouver and I just need you to sign off on them. Take a quick look, give them your John Hancock and you're on your way. Oh, I'm sure. No problem. Wigan takes the documents and begins flipping through them. Everything okay, Jeff? No, looks like we're missing some pages here. Wigan hands them minutes back over. Wells gives them their cursory glance. No, these look right. Ready to approve. Ken, this is only three pages long. We spent days on this talking about ways to make smoking less risky. None of that's here. Nothing on nicotine analogs, nothing on biological assays, nothing on reducing the time. Ken, you can't expect me to sign this. It's redacted. It's barely even a document anymore. Well, I do expect you to sign off on this and so does the president of the company. Tom Sanifer? That man couldn't pass high school chemistry. Well, it's Lee's back in his chair and persists his lips. I'm going to do your favorite, Jeff, and pretend I didn't hear that. Well, do me another favor and tell me why there's dozens of pages missing. Well, it's no secret, Mr. Sanifer objects to much of what was discussing the meetings. He thinks it's counterproductive. I thought developing a safer cigarette was the priority. Come to that change. You'll have to take that up with Mr. Sanifer directly. For now, we need your signature. Ken, this is insane. I'm a scientist. He goes against all my ethics. Jeff, do not throw away a six figure salary over a dozen pages. Think of your family. Then just sign it. Why Jan swallow his heart and looks away. His throat is tight. Things about his daughter was spying a bifida and about the cost of her treatments. He can't jeopardize her health coverage. And so why can lunges forward grabs the pen and signs his name. It's autumn 1989. Merrill Williams sits in his cubicle inside the offices of his law firm, where he still works as a paralegal, but he feels weighted down. It's not just the office environment that's damp, odor, and depressing view of appealing brick wall. And it's not just his co workers who spend their days hitting golf balls into overturned coffee mugs. It's not even the terrible secret knowledge that Williams has acquired over the past year. He keeps them off night after night because he knows if the public had this information, there could be massive lawsuits maybe even prison sentences. But no, right now, Williams feels burdened by something large and bulky underneath his shirt. He stares up at the clock. It's ticking toward noon. Just a few more minutes to wait. Then the clock strikes 12. Right on time, his supervisor cries, that's lunch boys. Williams team members head toward the elevator. He tells them he'll try and catch up later. And then finally, he's alone. Williams has rehearsed this moment in his head for weeks. Now it's go time. Williams gives a final look around and reaches into his filing cabinet. He grabs several papers that he's left there in the last few months. He tucks the papers under his arm and heads for the men's room. Once there, he finds the furthest stall and locks the door. He sets the documents on the toilet's porcelain tank, then unbuttoned his shirt and hangs it off the door. His draft to his stomach is the secret weapon he's been hiding all day, gray exercise girdle that he bought last week at Sears. Williams knows that what happens next must be done very carefully. Slowly, he takes the documents and slides them between the girdle and the white tank top he wears underneath. He can only pray the undershirt is thick enough to keep his sweat from soaking the pages. Just then, the door to the men's room swings open with a groan. Williams freezes cursing. He's left his shirt hanging on the stall door. He can feel it. He's going to get caught. He's going to lose his job. He'd be something worse. But then he just hears the rustling of a trash bag. Williams excels in relief and moffs his brouts just the janitor. Once the man has gone, it's time for Williams to leave too. He buttons his shirt and walked out of the bathroom and into the elevator. His destination is the Kinko's copy center down the street. He needs to make copies fast before he's caught with the documents outside the building. He knows what he's doing right now could get him into big trouble, but he doesn't feel afraid. Instead, he's burning with rage because he knows that the real crux are over at Brown and Williamson. Their crimes are worse than his could ever be. They've been committing them for decades. What if your family was the victim of a home invasion? Or you woke up in the morgue? Or you were seriously injured? Miles from help. What would you do? This is actually happening. Ask our listeners this very question while we bring you captivating real life stories of trauma and perseverance. This is actually happening brings listeners extraordinary true stories from the people who lived them. You'll hear stories about conflict, turmoil, or threats that dramatically alter the course of someone's life. Each episode is an exploration of the human spirit and how survivors manage to overcome hardship and move on with their lives. Even thriving afterward. The new season of this is actually happening is available at free only with Wondry Plus. And if this new season isn't enough, you can listen to more than 120 exclusive episodes available only to Wondry Plus subscribers. Join Wondry Plus on Apple Podcasts or on the Wondry app. It's November 1989. Jeffrey Wigan sits in the restaurant at the Brown Hotel, one of the finest establishments in Louisville, Kentucky. The air is filled with the smell of filet and young and lobster tail and the table has grown loud with laughter and conversation. Wigan is sitting opposite a number of his colleagues and sips from a die coke. He wishes bitterly that it was a bourbon on the rocks. But bad things tend to happen when Wigan drinks. That's why he quit cold turkey a few years back. One of his colleagues cracks another joke and the table roars with laughter. Wigan stares at his food. He feels utterly alone. He'd rather be home with his wife and kids. But given the number of enemies he's now made at Brown and Williamson, he would have been unwise to miss a company dinner. He takes another bite of his food and as he chooses absent mindedly he realizes he doesn't really know why he's still working for the company. Sure the money is good and money is important. But no amount of money is worth this. His lab coat has become a straight jacket. In the last couple of months it's become abundantly clear that Brown and Williamson put profit over science and people's health. They don't want an idealistic biochemist like Wigan. They want to pump it. Just then a nearby conversation cuts through the noise. Wigan puts down his fork and listens. At a nearby table one of his colleagues tells another that something called project hippo is progressing well. The other man says hippo looks better than something called the aerial initiative. Wigan stops chewing and takes a moment to consider the implications of this discussion. He pushes his chair back and rises. Then Wigan walks over to his colleagues table and the two men look up. Wigan says that he's confused. He couldn't help but hear that they were discussing some research and development projects. When Wigan reminds them he's the head of R&D and the name's Ariel and hippo are not projects he's familiar with. With a pointed look he asks for an explanation. The two men respond with dead silence. Wigan crosses his arms and waits. Finally one of the men speaks up. He breezily informs Wigan that Ariel and hippo are just old projects ancient history no big deal and they're not really R&D related so they're nothing to worry about. Wigan glares and gives a curtain on and turns away. He returns to his table fuming. So this is what it's come to he thinks. Direct lies to his face from his own peers. Wigan replays the conversation. He suspects Ariel and hippo are secret projects being carried out behind his back. He sits down heavily feeling more alone than ever. There's almost no one in his life he can talk to about this. His brother would just say I told you so and tell him to quit. But Wigan just can't leave. He has to consider his daughter and his wife Lucretia who would probably say he's just being paranoid. It's possible she's right but Wigan's instincts say differently. They also say it's time to get all this out in the open. It's time to confront Tom Sandefur, president of Brown and Williamson. A few days later Jeffrey Wigan sits in his office at Brown and Williamson. He's writing furiously. Ever since the company dinner he's begun keeping a secret scientific diary. In it he documents his work at BNW. Every project, every interaction with top management and every obstacle he faces as he pursues a safer secret. He writes all of it in the journal. Just as Wigan closes his journal his office door swings wide open. It's Tom Sandefur, president of Brown and Williamson. He scals at Wigan and Wigan scals right back. He finds Sandefur to be shallow, ignorant. He's the kind of so called leader who thinks that smart people exist only to embarrass him. Sandefur looks over at Wigan's journal. What you working on there? Tom is 1230 I thought we were scheduled to meet at three. Yeah well I decided to move the meeting up. You wanted to talk so let's talk. Okay, maybe you want to close the door? I thought I'd leave it open. I've got nothing hide. What about you? Wigan frowns. All right I'll get right to the point Tom. I agreed to my job as head of R&D because I thought I could make a difference. Lately I've gotten the sense that my belief was unfounded. What the hell are you talking about? With all due respect you know exactly what I'm talking about. I came here to build a safer secret. Sandefur rolls his eyes. Well for Christ's sake. I don't want to hear anything anymore about a safer secret. People like to smoke they know what they're in for. Wigan can feel his blood start to boil. Actually they don't Tom and you know it. Nicotine manipulation, ammonia chemistry. It's all to get the customers hooked and keep them hooked to a product that could trigger increased biological activity within the lungs. Sorry what's that? Increased biological activity? Yeah. Increased biological activity. I don't know his cancer Tom. Wigan watches the Sandefur laughs and disbelief and starts to pace the room. Now you listen to me Wigan. People were talking about safer cigarettes well before you got here and you want to know what the problem is. If we go changing our process we lose the taste we lose the smoothness and we lose customers and I just don't see how here's something you clearly can't see despite all your schooling. We also make pipe tobacco snuff. If we put out this safe cigarette people are going to start saying well wait they got a safer cigarette over here but what about these products? Are they not safe for me? Because before you know it we got to remake everything from scratch and that's stupid. Could we just know this conversation is over? Sandefur stomps off calmly and quietly Wigan opens his journal once again and notes the date and time. He takes a deep breath and begins recording the conversation that just took place. He also starts thinking about his next steps. Sandefur may be the company president but he's not the ultimate authority. If Wigan can steer clear of him there may still be a way to change B&W from the inside. It's February 11th 1992. Merrill Williams sits in his cubicle surrounded by large boxes stuffed with papers. Williams is in his fourth year at the law firm and he'd gladly put in four more. Every day he immerses himself in confidential memos about Brown and Williamson the tobacco giant and for the first time in his life he feels important and so he started to take better care of himself. He's lost a little weight gotten remarried. He even gained custody of his young daughters from his previous marriage. He hears a dang and looks up. The elevator doors open and a man in a suit walks out. Williams knows him. He's one of the firm's partners and right away his heart starts to race. He's been stealing and copying confidential memos for three years. He hopes and prays that he hasn't been caught that the partners here for another reason. But the man stops and announces to the entire office that he has bad news. He thanks the team for its years of loyal service but says that unfortunately all of that has come to an end effective immediately. There's nobody's fault simply in action the company must take at this time. He tells them to see the HR department with any questions. Then with a flight smile the partner turns on his heel and returns to the elevator. Some of Williams colleagues let out size others curse. Williams is a wash and mixed emotions. On one hand he just lost his job but he thought he was on the verge of being exposed maybe even put in handcuffs. So Williams grabs a box begins packing up his desk. Then he glances around and casually grabs a handful of documents and drops them in the box. Williams leaves, drives home. He pulls into the driveway, gets out and carries the box down toward the basement. Williams opens the door and peers down. Below him cardboard boxes are stacked in long rows. They all contain copies of B&W documents some dating back 40 years or more. Some detail how the company systematically targeted young teens all in an effort to turn them into lifelong smokers. Others are financial records. They show how politicians accepted thousands of dollars to oppose anti tobacco legislation. And then there's the proof that nicotine is addictive. Proof that cigarettes cause cancer. Williams carries down his last box. He stands alone, staring in his trove of secrets. He still doesn't know what to do with all of it. Williams has prayed on this a lot but God has provided no answers. He knows that he's been given a mighty sword. Williams just needs to know how to strike. It's June of 1992. Jeffrey Wygen sits in his air conditioned office, paging through lab reports. Then his phone rings. It's Earl Conehorse. The senior executive is the only friend at B&W that Wygen has left. He supports Wygen's vision for research and development and Wygen appreciates having some support in the office. But today there's something different in Conehorse's voice. He asked that Wygen come to his office. So Wygen hangs up and heads for the elevator. When he reaches Conehorse's office, the executive looks up from his desk as brow furrowed. He indicates for Wygen to sit. Wygen takes a seat and asks what's wrong. Conehorse doesn't hesitate. He informs Wygen that he's on thin ice without her management. They've had enough of his complaining and his questions. If Wygen wants to keep working at B&W, he must do as he's told. Wygen stares at Conehorse. Part of him holds onto the hope that this is some kind of prank. But Conehorse doesn't smile. Instead, he tells Wygen to consider this a final warning. Wygen shakes his head. He knows this has to be sand if we're talking. He can picture the company president telling Conehorse to get Wygen in line or be fired himself. Wygen's face grows hot. It's true he's been angry. He tells Conehorse. In fact, he's furious that he was misled about creating a better cigarette. There are things happening at the company and within the industry that just aren't right. He can't be expected to stay silent. But Conehorse looks unmoved. He says that if Wygen is going to be unreasonable, there's no way he can protect him. Wygen just needs to clean up his act. The force too late. And that's all Conehorse has to say on the matter. Dismissed and stunned, Wygen stands and heads back to his office. He thought Conehorse was a close friend and the betrayal stings painfully. But it also hardens his resolve. He knows being W's use of cigarette additives is wrong. So is the way it abandoned its project to lower the risk of cancer from smoking. But Wygen also knows that big tobacco is not an industry to cross. For years, there have been hushed whispers about those who dared. Some had their lives run. But Wygen isn't afraid to play heartball. He is a deep well of knowledge about Brown and Williamson. If he wanted to, he could topple the company like a house of cards. His head starts to spin as he imagines going after being W showing the whole world what they've been up to. But then he takes a deep breath, tries his steadiest thoughts. It's one thing to put himself in Brown and Williamson's crosshairs, but it's another to put his family in the same position. This isn't the time for open warfare. For now, all he can do is stockpile ammunition. It's March 24, 1993, and about nine months after Jeffrey Wygen was warned to keep client. Today, he sits on a stool in the Brown and Williamson lab, appears through a microscope. The scope is out of date, just like everything in his lab. Wygen rubs his eyes. There are high school chemistry classrooms with more advanced equipment than this. Wygen looks up and slowly exhales. Every time he's down here, he gets depressed. And making matters worse, the company promoted Tom Sandefurk to CEO two months ago. Now Wygen feels more isolated than ever. He's just about to reach for a scientific journal when he hears the sound of heavy footsteps. Wygen feels something twist in the pit of a stomach. Lab doors flung open and three security guards march in. They're followed by a man in a gray suit and tie. Wygen recalls that this is the man from human resources. He looks at Wygen with a scowl on his face. Mr. Wygen, you'll need to come with us. Your position here at Brown and Williamson is terminated. These men are here to escort you from the premises. Wygen blanks in confusion. The head security guard steps forward. Now, Mr. Wygen. Wait, what about all my stuff? The man from HR checks his watch, not even looking up. Well, leave it for now. Everything will be collected and returned to you. We can't have you walking out with any senses of material, so I'm sure you understand. Now, please, come with us. Wygen stands. He feels the initial shock subsiding, as anger is starting to bubble up. Look, look, just give me a minute. I need my journal. No, you are to leave all items and come with us to HR. You need to sign confidentiality paperwork. This is a requirement. Wygen stares. The fighter in him wants to throw a right hook. Instead, he smiles aracastically, picks up his coat and throws it over his shoulder. Well, fine. I was getting sick of this place anyway. Wygen hopes he's come across as unbothered, that the truth is he is scared. Tom Sanford has held the guillotine over Wygen's head ever since the new year, and today he's finally let it drop. Wygen is jobless, with no prospects, and he's got looming bills to pay, for the comfortable life his family now lives, and for his daughter's medical treatment. The wave of anguish catches Wygen by surprise. He's stayed at this broken company for many reasons, but above all, he did it to provide for his child. Now she's more vulnerable than ever. Meanwhile, Tom Sanford will grow richer and more powerful by the day. This injustice sets Wygen's teeth on edge. But as Wygen is led out by the security guards, it hits him. Now that he no longer has a job to protect, he can finally take off the gloves. The heads brown and Williams think they've killed him off, but all they've done is set him free. It's late at night in March 1993. Merrill Williams staggers through the doors of the emergency room at the University of Louisville Hospital. The bright light stabbing his eyes and his wife Sherry struggles to keep him upright. The nurse spots them and rushes over. Williams tries to tell her what's wrong, but he can't get the words out. He starts panic, starts taking deep ragged breaths. He hears that Sherry is panic too and scared. She's telling the nurse that she doesn't know what's wrong. Her husband just woke up like this saying he couldn't breathe. Suddenly, Williams feels dizzy. The room starts spinning and goes black. When he opens his eyes again, Williams is lying in a hospital bed with tubes in his arms. It's late morning. His wife sits beside him. Her face looks pale. She clutches a handful of crumpled tissues and when Williams meets her eyes, she murmurs, thank God. Right away, he asks what happened. Sherry tells him that he had a heart attack. The surgeon operated all night to save his life. He stunned and speechless. When he has the strength to talk again, he asks about his daughters. Sherry says they're at the house. Her sister is watching them. Williams leans back as the tears come. He pictures his young girls innocent faces. Came so close to never seeing them again. And he wonders if he's ever done anything to truly make them proud. Can't imagine that he has. But now Williams can feel it in his bones. He's been blessed with a second chance. He can still be a hero in their eyes. He tells Sherry that he finally gets it. He knows what he's supposed to do with boxes in the basement. At 52, Williams finally understands the purpose of his life. The heart attack was a message from God, he says. The tobacco industry is dangerous. It's gone too far for too long. The companies must be stopped. And God wants Merrill Williams to stop them. It's spring 1993 in Berkeley, California. The coastal marine layer has yet to burn off. The air is cool. The sky overcast. Lowell Bergman sits at his kitchen table, holding a steaming mug of black coffee. The scanning the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle. For the 47 year old journalist, this is only the first of several newspapers he'll read today. Bergman believes that newspapers are to be read, covered to cover, swiftly, but with care. They offer the headlines, tips, and clues that help him do his job because Bergman is a producer on 60 minutes, the award winning television news show. Bergman is about to turn the page when he hears a heavy thump on his front porch. The head through the door opens it and looks down. Bergman raises a eyebrow. He looks left, then right. Across the street, one of his neighbors pushes a lawnmower back and forth. Other than that, there's no sign of anyone. Whoever did this did it quickly and got away fast. Bergman looks down and takes stock of a large wooden crate on his doorstep. It's stuffed with papers and he can see the word confidential on a few pages. Bergman is no alarmed. He specializes in investigative reporting and people often send anonymous tips and court documents directly to his house. It's his responsibility to examine these materials and figure out where they lead. So he picks up the heavy crate with a grunt and heads back inside. Bergman returns to his kitchen table. He reaches into the crate and carefully removes the set of documents. Paging through them, Bergman immediately realizes two things. First, whatever he's holding is not public information. Second, the papers come from Philip Morris, the tobacco giant behind Marlboro cigarettes. Bergman doesn't consider himself an expert on the tobacco industry, but he does know a few things. One is that big tobacco manufacturers add dangerous product and rakes in billions from sales. He also knows that the industry has historically been immune to litigation. Maybe these documents contain evidence that could damage an industry long thought to be invincible. Or maybe not, because Bergman can't really make heads or tails of the figures, charts and graphs he holds in his hand. They all look technical so he's going to need some help deciphering them. Bergman enters his home office and closes the door. He begins flipping through his roller dex. It contains hundreds of phone numbers. Phone numbers for fellow investigators, business insiders, industry informants and spies. But Bergman doesn't have to flip for long. Fortunately, he knows just the person to call. Next on American Scanel, Marlwilliam launches a crusade. Jeffrey Wagon makes the most important decision of his life. A team of lawyers decides to take on big tobacco. From Wondry, this is Episode 1 of Big Tobacco for American Scanel. A quick note about our reenactments. In most cases, we can't know exactly what was said, but all our dramatizations are based on historical research. If you'd like to learn more about the fight against Big Tobacco, we recommend the books The People vs Big Tobacco by Carrot Mollencamp, Adam Levy, Joseph Men and Jeffrey Rothfetter, and Smoke Screen, the Truth Behind the Tobacco Industry Coverup by Philip J. Hiltz. American Scanel is hosted, edited and executed produced by me, Lindsey Graham for airship, audio editing by Molly Bach, sound design by Derek Barrett. This episode is written by Hannibal D.S., edited by Christina Mollsberg, produced by Gabe Rhythm. Executive producers are Stephanie Jen's Jenny Lauer Beckman and her nonlopes for Wondry.