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David Kessler

David Kessler is former Commissioner of the US food and Drug Administration. As such, he took on one of the country's most powerful foes: the tobacco industry. They investigated tobacco makers to determine whether nicotine was a drug, and if so, be regulated by the FDA. Kessler's book about it is A Question of Intent: A Great American Battle with a Deadly Industry.

42:10

Other segments from the episode on January 9, 2001

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, January 9, 2001: Interview with David Kessler; Review of “Hotcakes and Outtakes: 30 Years of Little Feat."

Transcript

DATE January 9, 2001 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Interview: David Kessler discusses taking on the tobacco industry
as head of the Food and Drug Administration
TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Yesterday the Supreme Court agreed to hear a case regarding whether states
have the right to regulate tobacco advertising near school yards and
playgrounds. Last year, the Supreme Court ruled in a major tobacco case that
the Food and Drug Administration did not have the authority to regulate
tobacco. My guest, David Kessler, was the FDA commissioner who tried to
regulate it. He investigated the tobacco industry and its use of addictive
nicotine. Under Kessler, the FDA got secret information from several highly
placed industry insiders whose identities the FDA needed to protect, including
Jeffrey Wigand, the subject of the film "The Insider."

Kessler has written a memoir about the FDA's battle with the tobacco industry
called "A Question of Intent." Kessler was appointed by President Bush in
1990, and stayed on under President Clinton until resigning in 1997. Kessler
is now head of the Yale University School of Medicine. When he left the FDA,
an LA Times editorial described him as having restored the FDA to what it was
meant to be, an aggressive advocate for the public's health. On the other
hand, Newt Gingrich called him a thug and a bully.

I asked Kessler if he had planned on taking on the tobacco industry when he
became the head of the FDA.

Dr. DAVID KESSLER (Author, "A Question of Intent"): Absolutely not. In fact,
it was the farthest thing that I ever considered. There was a young man who
was 29 years of age; he worked at the FDA as associate commissioner of public
affairs. Something interesting about him, he had already--by the age of 29,
he had worked for both Ralph Nader and Dan Quayle before he had come to FDA.
And he kept on asking me, `Why doesn't FDA regulate tobacco products? It
regulates everything else that comes in contact with the body, everything we
ingest, everything we eat. Why doesn't FDA regulate tobacco products?' And
when he first raised it, I looked at him as if he were crazy.

GROSS: Well, let me ask you, why didn't the FDA regulate tobacco?

Dr. KESSLER: Well, you have to start with the definition of a drug, and you
have to understand that. A drug is defined in the law as an article intended
to affect the structure or function of the body. Does nicotine affect the
structure or function of the body? Go to any medical library and, you know,
type in the word `nicotine' and you'll find thousands of articles on
nicotine's effect on the central and peripheral nervous system. But that
alone didn't make nicotine a drug under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic
Act. Remember I said the definition is `an article intended to affect the
structure or function of the body.' There's that word `intent.' The courts
have interpreted that word `intent' to mean the manufacturer's intent. You
ask the tobacco companies what they intended, they would say, `Nicotine's in
there just for pleasure, for satisfaction, for taste.' Ask them whether they
intended nicotine's effect on the structure or function of the body, and they
would say no.

So no one ever went to really look at what the companies knew or what they did
about nicotine.

GROSS: So why did you decide to take it on?

Dr. KESSLER: Well, Nesbitt(ph) had raised the question, and in order to sort
of get him off my back, I agreed to a briefing, and we called people around
the room. And I remember going around at a table and asking everybody what
they thought. And it was fascinating, because there were people there, very
dedicated individuals, very dedicated to the public health, who had been there
20, 30 years, absolutely vehemently opposed to taking on tobacco. Not because
they--any friend of the industry, but just because they were afraid of what
the industry would do to the agency.

And there were others--there was a young lawyer--her name was Katherine
Lorraine(ph)--and when I got around the table, I looked at her and she says,
`If you're willing to do this, I am willing to spend the rest of my career
working on this.' So there was a great deal differences of opinion.

But we put together a small group, and they started looking at the question of
whether nicotine was a drug, and started looking to see what evidence that the
manufacturers intended nicotine's effect. And we started--we went where no
one else had ever gone before, into the tobacco industry.

GROSS: Now you made the case that the FDA should have jurisdiction over
cigarettes because nicotine is an addictive substance. Why did you head in
that direction and not the direction that smoking can cause cancer? The
carcinogen approach was the approach that had usually been taken.

Dr. KESSLER: Well, again, go back to the legal definition. The definition of
a drug is an article intended to affect the structure or function of the body.
Simply because nicotine is addictive, or because smoking causes cancer, does
not meet the legal definition. The question is one of intent. What did the
companies intend? What did they know? What did they do about nicotine?

GROSS: So let me stop you. In other words, if tobacco causes cancer, that
doesn't necessarily mean that the FDA could regulate it. The FDA could only
regulate it if it was a drug.

Dr. KESSLER: That's correct.

GROSS: OK. So in trying to make the case that nicotine is a drug, what
exactly did you have to prove?

Dr. KESSLER: We had to prove what the companies intended. What did they
know about nicotine? So we had to go in--we talked to literally hundreds of
people, you know, we went through thousands of documents, and informants
started to emerge. And what we saw--and at first we only had certain
glimpses. We saw patents that the industry had filed about nicotine's
pharmacological effects, about certain nicotine analogs. We then saw
something very interesting, because the companies said they didn't manipulate
nicotine, but we then found evidence of manipulation by the industry. In
fact, the lightest cigarettes sometimes had the highest concentrations of
nicotine. Again, the whole question of manipulation--if they're manipulating
it, what did they intend? We saw evidence of genetically engineered tobacco.
We tracked down Brazilian tobacco that was genetically bred that ended up
coming into the United States used in American cigarettes that had
higher-than-normal nicotine levels.

So all this evidence went to the question of intent. But it was only when we
got our hands on documents that showed that for decades the industry knew
about nicotine's pharmacological effects and did research on it, did we have
evidence that the companies intended nicotine's effect.

GROSS: Did you find what you considered to be evidence that the tobacco
industry used nicotine with the intention of addicting smokers so that they'd
always buy more?

Dr. KESSLER: If you look, for example, back in the 1950s after the first
articles came out about smoking and cancer in the public press, the companies
put filters in front of the cigarette rod, what they did--and it took me a
while to figure this out--is that filters take out tar. They also take out
nicotine. But people smoke for the nicotine, and if you don't provide them
the nicotine that they'll stop smoking. So when they added the filters, what
you see is the companies up the level of nicotine in the tobacco leaf so that
it would, quote, "satisfy" consumers' desire for cigarettes. Was that
maintaining their addiction? It certainly was providing enough nicotine to
maintain that addiction.

GROSS: In order to find out what was happening inside the tobacco industry,
you found a number of insiders, experts in the tobacco industry, who were
willing to become whistle-blowers and give you information about inside stuff.
What was your approach to finding insiders who were willing to talk?

Dr. KESSLER: They were terrified. But we had a wonderful team, very diverse
backgrounds, who worked at the FDA. One was a former Secret Service CIA
agent, one had worked as the Army's polygraph expert in a previous job. One
was an investigative journalist. One had actually worked for one of the major
tobacco companies as a public relations expert. So we had a small group of
very talented individuals who began talking to people. They knew how to find
information. They would talk to somebody and get leads, and that's what's
opened up new doors. The informants, some of them were terrified. But in
some ways, because it was the FDA, because we were talking about the public
health, I think it gave at least some people some comfort in talking to us.

GROSS: My guest is former FDA commissioner David Kessler. His new memoir is
called "A Question of Intent." More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest David Kessler has written a memoir about his years as FDA
commissioner when he tried to regulate the tobacco industry. The best-known
of the insiders who spoke to the FDA was Jeffrey Wigand, who also spoke to
"60 Minutes" and was the subject of the movie "The Insider." You have a kind
of funny story about the first time you spoke with him.

Dr. KESSLER: We had been talking to this informant, and I knew him only by
his code name, `Research,' and he insisted upon talking to me directly. He
would not talk to any of the investigators. And we're sitting in my office,
and I'm looking at documents and I'm trying to find other leads and I said,
`Who is this person? Who is that person? Who is so-and-so?' Then I said,
`Who is Jeffrey Wigand?' And he looked at me, and he said, `I'm Jeffrey
Wigand.' We had gone to, you know--we really wanted to make sure that we
protected his confidentiality. We had gotten to the point where I didn't even
know what his name was. This is about a year and a half before it broke on
"60 Minutes." In fact, one day Mike Wallace called me, and he said, `You know
who Jeffrey Wigand is?' And I said to him, `Mike, you may know who I know,
but I'm not going to reveal any sources.'

GROSS: Was that your way of saying yes without having to say yes?

Dr. KESSLER: Well, I think Wigand had told Wallace that, in fact, for the
last year and a half he had been talking to the FDA. In fact, we went to such
great extents over a year and a half to keep Wigand's name confidential, I got
beaten up by congressional committees; one member of Congress even threatened
to hold me in contempt. So we really tried to keep Wigand's name
confidential. Then one day I hear Wigand sat down for a four-hour interview
with "60 Minutes," and he thought he had an agreement that they wouldn't air
it unless, in fact, he gave them permission, and I sort of just lost it,
because here we were trying to protect him, and he sits down with "60
Minutes," and then it broke.

GROSS: What impact did that "60 Minutes" story have on your investigation?

Dr. KESSLER: I don't think it had any direct impact. It's interesting, when
Wigand went out on "60 Minutes," I knew that Brown & Williamson would go after
him, and go after him personally, and they did. They hired investigators,
they tried to smear his name. But we had a number of other informants, and I
made sure, at that time--in fact, I deliberately asked our investigators if
some of the other informants would go public so we could take some of the
pressure off Wigand.

GROSS: And did they?

Dr. KESSLER: They did.

GROSS: So finally, do you think that his going public helped the case in any
way?

Dr. KESSLER: He certainly was the highest ranking whistle-blower to go
public. I think he gave the public a real sense of what it's like inside the
tobacco companies. You know, I watched "The Insider," and while Hollywood
always adds--there's always hype, what was interesting, I thought Russell
Crowe just was phenomenal. He was just like--the mannerisms, I thought I
actually was watching Jeffrey Wigand, and I knew Jeffrey Wigand.

GROSS: Now you weren't depicted in the movie, were you?

Dr. KESSLER: No. You know, it was about "60 Minutes," it was about CBS and
Jeffrey Wigand. We were in the background. The fact is that we had Wigand
as an informant considerably before "60 Minutes," but the movie was about how
the press dealt with a very important source.

GROSS: Did you think at any point that the tobacco industry was coming after
you in a personal way, or trying to smear you?

Dr. KESSLER: They certainly--they had what they called a ferocious defense.
They got Congress to schedule hearings to investigate us. They went after, in
a very personal way--they brought private lawsuits, harassment suits, they
trumped up charges against one of our lead investigators. There was no basis
whatsoever, and I talk about it in the book. It was the one time--it was the
one time that I got very, very angry.

GROSS: Now you found--during the course of your investigation into the
tobacco industry, you or someone on your staff found a paper from the industry
saying, `If we are truly to influence the public policy agenda and the
information flow to the populous, we must be the media, we must be part of it.
The only way to do this is to own a major media outlet. If we're not willing
to take this step, then we are not serious about really wanting to change the
atmosphere.'

Where did this paper come from?

Dr. KESSLER: You know, I spent considerable amount of time after I left the
agency wanting to research what went on here, try and ask certain questions.
When I was at FDA, I knew, you know, what we were doing. But what I tried to
do in writing this book was to do it not just form my perspective, so I
interviewed hundreds of people, and literally went through millions of pages,
and I found that document. It was called Operation Rainmaker. It's pretty
remarkable. They actually wanted to own media outlets. They were serious
about purchasing UPI. They never consummated the deal, but it does give you a
sense of their mind-set. There are other documents that also, I think, give
you some clue of what it's like in the industry. Their European-Middle East
division of one of the major companies, they actually sought certain Islamic
fundamentalists who interpreted a strategy for seeking out these Islamic
fundamentalists that supported an interpretation of the Koran that permitted
smoking. It sort of gives you a sense that they would stop at almost nothing.

One of our colleagues, the woman who had worked as a public relations expert
for the tobacco companies, you know, told me a story that I still remember.
She was with her boss one day, and she was--this is when she was working at a
PR firm for Philip Morris--and she was telling her boss, who worked at Philip
Morris, that she would try and to do this project and try to be efficient and
cost effective and not spend too much money. And he turned to her and he
said, `Sharon, you don't get it. We're Philip Morris. We have more money
than God.'

GROSS: You felt you needed President Clinton's approval on your strategy to
regulate the tobacco industry. What were some of the difficulties in getting
his ear?

Dr. KESSLER: The first time it came up, we were invited to a reception, and
it was Christmas 1994. It was a small reception. My wife and I were there
one evening, and there were only about a hundred people and we were off in the
corner. And as President Clinton is, you know, known for, he was walking
around and loves talking and we had a few moments with him. He was absolutely
convinced that he had lost the House of Representatives for two reasons. One
was guns, the other tobacco. And he was saying, in essence, `You can't take
those stands.' And I remember my wife looking at him and saying, `Why are you
president then if it's not to take on issues that matter?'

The next time I was with the president, he had already read the results of our
investigation. I sent him literally hundreds and hundreds of pages, and he
read everything. And I was asked to come up to the residence and I walked
into his study and he looked at me and he said, `I want to kill them.'

GROSS: Them being the industry?

Dr. KESSLER: Them being the industry.

GROSS: And then you felt he was in your court after that?

Dr. KESSLER: He was certainly in our court at that point. You know, it's
one thing if you're a regulator, if you're commissioner of the FDA, you can do
so much, but if you have a regulator and a president, it's a whole--you're at
a whole different level. And I give him a great deal of credit. He wasn't
there initially, but he got there. And we had to work with the people around
him. I'm absolutely convinced that the vice president was instrumental in
getting the president to go along. In fact, it was the vice president that we
had gone into, and he was the one who said, `Let me carry this into the
president.'

GROSS: David Kessler is a former commissioner of the Food and Drug
Administration. He's now dean of the Yale University School of Medicine. His
new memoir is called "A Question of Intent." He'll be back in the second half
of the show.

I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: Coming up, going before the Supreme Court with a case against the
tobacco industry. We continue our conversation with former FDA commissioner
David Kessler. And Milo Miles reviews a new CD boxed set collecting 30 years
of the band Little Feat.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross back with David Kessler, former
head of the Food and Drug Administration. He was appointed by President Bush
in 1990 and continued to serve under President Clinton until '97. Kessler is
now dean of the Yale University School of Medicine. He's written a new memoir
about his attempts to regulate the tobacco industry while he was head of the
FDA. He tried to prove that nicotine is a drug and that it therefore came
under the jurisdiction of the FDA.

The issue over whether the FDA could have jurisdiction over the tobacco
industry ended up being fought out in the courts. How did it end up in the
courts?

Dr. KESSLER: It went into the courts because the tobacco companies brought
suit against me and the FDA in North Carolina.

GROSS: And what was the outcome in the courts?

Dr. KESSLER: We won in the federal district court. We lost in the Supreme
Court by a vote of 5:4. The same split the way the court just recently split
on the election.

GROSS: Same judges?

Dr. KESSLER: Same judges.

GROSS: Same judges on the five and same judges on the four?

Dr. KESSLER: Same justices on the five, same justices on the four.

GROSS: You say in your book that you thought no matter what arguments you
made, no matter what evidence you might have offered, that the five judges who
voted against you would have voted against you. What made you say that?

Dr. KESSLER: You know, within--I'm sitting there in the Supreme Court and
within the first couple of minutes, Justice O'Connor made a statement. She
said, `Cigarettes--they're no different than horror movies. Horror movies get
your adrenaline pumping. Why aren't horror movies a drug?' I really felt, at
that point, she just didn't understand the fact that nicotine was a drug. And
in some ways, when I started off, when I looked at a cigarette, I said, `I
mean, is this really a drug?' But the tobacco companies knew for decades.
There was this quote of the general counsel of Brown & Williamson written back
in the 1960s--we didn't see it till the 1990s--where he said, quote, "We are
then in the business of selling nicotine, an addictive drug." And there were
hundreds of quotes in documents where they knew about nicotine's
pharmacological effects. The Supreme Court, the five justices just didn't see
it. They just didn't see nicotine as a drug.

The other justices that went against us said, `What's new here? We've known
that cigarettes are bad for you since 1938.' I'm sitting there thinking to
myself: It's the evidence. It's the evidence. We've just spent years
uncovering what the tobacco industry has known. And they're just not paying
any attention to the evidence. The same evidence in front of juries today are
finding--that average citizens are holding tobacco companies are liable.
That's the same set of evidence, but it didn't swing the Supreme Court. In
the end, what I really--as I sat there, I think the reason we lost was that
those five justices not only didn't see nicotine as a drug, they also were
opposed to the role of government in solving a problem like this.

GROSS: How do you think your experiences as the commissioner of the Food and
Drug Administration affected your feelings about government and the legal
system?

Dr. KESSLER: I loved my being commissioner. I loved public service. It
wasn't necessarily fun, but I think I misjudged in some ways. The tobacco
companies did focus groups. They did a lot of polling. And they really
played the big government card, and I think I underestimated the extent.
There's a real ambivalence. We want, in some ways, government to protect us,
but we also want to be free from government interference. It's this mixture
of mistrust and reliance. It's almost the American way.

GROSS: If you were still the FDA commissioner, what would your next step be
now in trying to regulate tobacco?

Dr. KESSLER: You know, it was interesting. I spent six and a half years as
FDA commissioner. The average tenure is closer to 18 months. I really had
done what I set out to do. I think this is beyond FDA. I think it's beyond
regulation. You know, it's fascinating. Today the tobacco companies admit
that cigarettes cause cancer, that nicotine is addictive. They're even
calling for regulation themselves. You know, here I worked for six, seven
years trying to get regulation and the companies are now in favor of it. And
I wonder. I think it's the right decision, but in some ways it gives the
companies a stamp of social acceptability. So I'm concerned if it just gives
them peace.

I actually think--as the liability cases move forward, I think in the end the
industry needs to be dismantled. I think we need to prohibit promotion. I
think that we need to affect their bottom line, their profits. I mean, in
some ways it's the power of the industry and the enormous profits, that
they've been able to take those profits and pour them back into the promotion
of their product. I've come--and I didn't see this clearly when I was at the
agency, but I have come to the realization that no one, no one, should profit
from the sale of an addictive drug, especially an addictive drug that kills
people.

GROSS: Your concern about the liability settlements is that when the tobacco
industry loses in a liability settlement then there's more pressure on the
industry to sell more cigarettes and make more money to pay back the money
that's owed in the lawsuits.

Dr. KESSLER: It is a vicious cycle. You have these verdicts, and in some
ways they pay for those verdicts by selling more cigarettes. And in the
end--it's not gonna come about in the short term, but in the end certainly
their liability exceeds their assets. I mean, it's a shell game right now,
and it's going to end, and I think it's going to end--it may not be for a
decade, but I think you will see the industry reconfigured. It will certainly
not look like the way it is. They can't afford. Every cigarette they sell
only increases their liability.

GROSS: My guest is former FDA commissioner David Kessler. His new memoir is
called "A Question of Intent." More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: David Kessler is my guest. He was appointed in 1990 by President Bush
to head the FDA and President Clinton kept him on and Kessler served until the
beginning of 1997. Now he's written a memoir about his attempts to regulate
the tobacco industry. It's called "A Question of Intent."

Now before you became the FDA commissioner, you had been an aide to Republican
Senator Orrin Hatch. You'd consulted with him on food and drug issues. I
understand he helped you get appointed by Bush as the commissioner of the FDA,
but after you became commissioner he accused you of being `nakedly political,'
and I don't think he liked the direction you headed in with the tobacco
industry. What was it like to be somebody's former aide and then to be on
opposite sides?

Dr. KESSLER: I have enormous respect for Senator Hatch. I was an aide. I
actually was a volunteer on his staff. And he's a wonderful individual. You
know, down deep I hope he is proud of what we did. I may have caused him a
little heartburn. I really do think when the public health is at stake,
regulation is essential. That's not in line with the real conservative
philosophy, but I admire Senator Hatch. He knew that I had to do my job, and
I think--down deep I hope he admired that.

GROSS: Were there differences for you between serving in the Bush and the
Clinton administrations?

Dr. KESSLER: Oh, sure. Every administration is different. You know, both
President Bush and President Clinton were terrific. They were very different.
You know, in the book I talked about food labeling. That ended up in the Oval
Office, also. You know that little box on all food packages that's called
nutrition facts, tells you how much fat, how much sodium, how much cholesterol
is in a product? We fought very hard to get that information on the food
label, and the Department of Agriculture was fighting us, and it ended up in
the Oval Office, and I knew, you know, we were gonna have a real tough time of
convincing President Bush and the people around him to side with us and not
the Department of Agriculture.

And I had been down at my wife's--where she grew up in New Jersey, and I'd
been to a McDonald's with the kids, and I'd seen a placemat that had the same
nutrition facts information that we were suggesting, and I gave that to
Secretary Sullivan, who was called into the Oval Office to argue the case for
us. And when Secretary Madigan, the secretary of Agriculture, basically said
that, `Mr. President, FDA is out of their mind requiring this information,'
Sullivan pulled out the McDonald's tray liner and he said, `Mr. President, if
it's good enough for McDonald's, it should be good enough for the Department
of Agriculture.' President Bush Sr. certainly deserves a lot of credit. He
sided with us.

GROSS: I want to ask you about something during your experiences as the Food
and Drug Administration commissioner that doesn't have to do with regulating.
It has to do with making your points to the public. You write in your memoir
that early on in your experiences as commissioner, you were a guest on "Good
Morning America" and you realized you just didn't make your points clearly
enough in that short amount of time that you had.

Dr. KESSLER: Didn't make my points? I was absolutely awful. I mean, that
red light went on and I have a catecholamine surge. I have this absolute
panic attack. My heart rate increased. I mean, Charlie Gibson, who was
interviewing me--you know, I was doing this by satellite, so I had this
earpiece in my ear and I'm in this studio, it's black, and I'm looking into
this camera, and I don't know when to stop, I'm stumbling over my words. I'm
as inarticulate as possible, and Gibson must be looking--this is right after I
came to the agency--sort of--he ended it by saying, `Well, good luck.' I
mean, 'cause it was awful. And I got off that show and I said, `Well, I'm
never doing TV again.'

GROSS: That's not really an option, is it?

Dr. KESSLER: No, not when you're FDA commissioner. Look, the things that the
agency regulates, I mean, it's everything that's put on the dinner table.
It's what we give our families when they're sick. I mean, it's blood, it's
vaccines. One-quarter of our economy is regulated by the FDA. People really
care about those products. They care about what they give their family. So
it's very important to be able to communicate. But, boy, no one had ever
trained me to do it.

GROSS: So you went to a media coach after that. What was the best advice
that you got?

Dr. KESSLER: Oh, I hated that. I absolutely--they forced me to go to this
media coach, and I was kicking and screaming all the way. You know, it was
interesting. I don't think the media coach--as much as when I did
"McLaughlin," where it really sunk in. I did one of the Sunday shows, and
I turned around and I looked at--they had a board behind me that had all the
questions written out, and I sort of joked with him, `Can I have a board
behind him with the answers?' But what I didn't realize was that his job
was--what he wanted to do was to get me to commit, to make news, to go beyond
what I wanted to say. He really wanted for me not to stay with what I was
prepared to say. He was looking for me to mess up.

GROSS: Or to just, you know, reveal things that were true but go further than
you planned to disclose.

Dr. KESSLER: That's correct.

GROSS: So were you good at not going further than you wanted to go?

Dr. KESSLER: You know, most of the time you learn how to do this. My first
interview with George Strait. You know, people said to me, `Stay on message.'
So I'm doing this interview with George Strait, and every question he asks me
I give the same answer. I mean, it was absolutely--it was ridiculous, and
George looked at me and he said, `David, just talk. I'll edit you.' And, you
know, in some ways when you read the book you see the real contributions of
the press. I don't think we could have done--I know we couldn't have done
what we did without the press; the contributions of Phil Hilts at The New
York Times, Walt Bogdanic(ph), who was with ABC, Alix Freedman with The Wall
Street Journal. And you look at what happened with Hilts and what happened
with Bogdanic. They really put themselves at risk. But the press was
absolutely instrumental in the whole tobacco battle.

GROSS: Well, one more thing. You were the commissioner when the food
labeling became policy. The labels, you know, that mention what the food
ingredients are, how much fat there is, the number of calories. When you buy
a food, a packaged food, what do you most want to see in that label? As a
consumer, what are you looking for?

Dr. KESSLER: You know, I'm the one who's responsible, and you know, you never
pick up that packaged food and you look at that nutrition facts and you see
that--you look at total fat and you see that it contains 40 percent, and then
you put it back. You know, in some ways I think that's the line certainly
that I look at, total fat, to see, you know, how much total fat is in a
product.

GROSS: Are there any ways in which being the head of the FDA changed what you
eat or the drugs that you take, how you shop?

Dr. KESSLER: I think--you know, it's interesting--you know, in the kitchen,
we have this candy drawer, and my kids one day were in it and they were
pulling something out and I said, you know, `How can you eat that stuff?' And
they turned to me and said, `Dad, you approved it.' You know, so it's like
anything else. I mean, I shop just like you do, I'm sure.

GROSS: Well, David Kessler, thank you so much for talking with us.

Dr. KESSLER: It's a pleasure.

GROSS: David Kessler is the former commissioner of the Food and Drug
Administration. He's now dean of the Yale University School of Medicine. His
new memoir about trying to regulate the tobacco industry is called "A Question
of Intent."

Coming up, Milo Miles reviews a new boxed set collecting 30 years of Little
Feat.

This is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: New boxed set by Little Feat
TERRY GROSS, host:

These days it seems there are more boxed sets of music coming out than ever
before, but music critic Milo Miles says what's missing is clear thinking
about what a boxed set should accomplish. The case in point is Little Feat's
"Hotcakes & Outtakes."

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. LOWELL GEORGE: I've been warped by the rain, driven by the snow; I'm
drunk and dirty, don't you know, and I'm still willing. And I was out on the
road...

MILO MILES reporting:

Obviously not every band deserves a box set, but not even every good band with
a long history should undertake one. You might end up with something like
Little Feat's four-CD "Hotcakes & Outtakes: 30 Years of Little Feat," which
the group's legacy would be better off without. A worthwhile box set from a
single performer or band should be more than greatest hits plus, plus, plus.
The goal should be to tell a career story in a new way or more completely than
before. But remember, the career story should be enlightening, not
depressing.

(Soundbite of music)

LITTLE FEAT: I've been down, but not like this before. Can't be around this
kind of show no more. Oh, all, all that you dream, it comes through a shiny,
silver lining. And clouds, clouds change the scene and rain starts washing
all love's caution. But it's real life. It's not the real life. What is
true, what else can you do? You just follow the rules, keep your eyes on the
road up ahead of you, whoa, whoa, whoa.

MILES: Led by singer/songwriter and slide guitarist Lowell George, Little
Feat came out of Los Angeles in the very early 1970s. Not a happy period for
rock 'n' roll that was both smart and sassy. When he was hot, George's wirey
guitar tone and fluent phrasing were as distinctive as Duane Allman's. Nimble
drummer Richie Hayward and the jazzy chops keyboardist Bill Payne gave the
band a bit of ballerina grace. And in the early days, George and Martin
Kinney(ph) wrote songs that featured a delightful cast of grotesques and sad
sacks who coupled, collapsed and bounced back with a smile. Set to tricky
music that matched the shifting moods of the stories, Little Feat made the
breakdowns and chaos of the 1970s seem like fizzy kicks.

Their third album, "Dixie Chicken," is one of the strongest records from the
end of the 1960s to the rise of punk, and I've been recommending it to people
for more than 25 years.

(Soundbite of "Dixie Chicken")

LITTLE FEAT: I've seen the bright lights of Memphis and the Commodore Hotel,
and underneath the street lamp, I met a Southern belle. Well, she took me to
the living room, where she cast her spell, and in that Southern moonlight, she
sang the song so well. If you'll be my Dixie chicken, I'll be your Tennessee
lamb, and we can walk together down in Dixieland, down in Dixieland.

MILES: Sadly, Lowell George was walking a thin line with his art in an era
when people were inhaling thick lines at parties, and he did enjoy his
celebrations. By the fifth or sixth record, he sounded like a guest in his
own band, and wrote fewer, weaker songs. He died in 1979 near the start of
his first solo tour. He was only 34. Little Feat fell apart, but regrouped
in 1988 and since then has released almost as many records as the original
band. And that's the calamity for "Hotcakes & Outtakes." The later Little
Feat provides only drab, day-job re-creations of the old philosophical frenzy.
The group's aim is just off, even on selected cuts. For example, they do a
medley of Muddy Waters' catchy by serious blues, "Can't Be Satisfied."
With Robert Johnson's novelty tune, "They're Red-Hot," which just reduces
both songs to party music. This is not bad stuff, you understand, just not
necessary in any way.

(Soundbite of medley)

LITTLE FEAT: If you walk right in off the street, you can take the load right
off your feet. Mama bring a menu to your seat, but the bill of fare'll be
short and sweet. Won't find no eggs to bake, Mama never, ever could cook that
way. She ...(unintelligible) no novelle cuisine. She cooked gumbo,
(unintelligible) gumbo. It's the only way she can go, down at the club
(unintelligible) gumbo.

MILES: Little Feat newcomers should go straight to "Dixie Chicken" or the
throbbing live set "Waiting for Columbus" or even the retrospective called
"Hoy-Hoy!," which is sort of a tribute to Lowell George. And we don't have to
be at the dead end of the Little Feat story. The definitive live set is yet
to appear. And two old bootlegs, including a sizzler called "Electric
Lycanthrope(ph)," were mixed by Lowell George himself. Why not put them out?
Now that would be a story.

GROSS: Milo Miles is a writer living in Cambridge.

(Credits)

GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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