The Judge and The Historian

Ramses Delafontaine

Historians as Expert Witnesses Ramses Delafontaine

Stephen Ambrose

Stephen Ambrose

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Stephen Ambrose was professor of history at the University of New Orleans. Ambrose wrote more than thirty books, primarily on World War II and President Eisenhower. His work Band of Brothers was made into a television miniseries for which he won a Primetime Emmy as one of the producers. As a historian, he appeared on American national television on several occasions to discuss different presidencies and World War II. Ten months prior to his death, the New York Times wrote that Ambrose had become: “the most prolific, the most commercially successful and the most academically accomplished of a new group of blockbuster historians.”[1] Despite his fame or because of it, Ambrose’s work came under close scrutiny and questions of plagiarism arose. In the years after his death, Ambrose’s work has in some instances been confirmed as plagiarism.[2] In addition, his interviews with President Eisenhower are estimated to be far fewer in number than Ambrose had us believe.[3]

Ambrose founded The National WWII Museum in New Orleans. His involvement in the museum can also be linked to his work for the tobacco industry. In April of 1995, Ambrose sent two letters to employees of Philip Morris asking for funding for the National D-Day Museum, now the National World War Two museum. Ambrose sent the letters as Chairman of the Board of the national D-Day Museum. The subject of Ambrose’s letters were the alleged promises of Philip Morris’s executives for funding for the newly established museum. In response to his letters, Bring Murray, an executive at Philip Morris responded that even if those promises were made, those executives who made those promises did not have the authority to make them. After due deliberation, no such funds could be made available at Philip Morris at that time.[4] Ambrose had testified for the tobacco industry in Covert v. Liggett Group only the year before. Some months later it seems that the industry’s recruiters were not willing to redeem all of their promises.

Yet, Ambrose continued his work for the tobacco companies. In 1997, Ambrose was deposed in the Attorney General’s case Florida v. American Tobacco. He was furthermore designated in Haines v. Liggett Group that same year. On April 28, 1999 the board of directors of Philip Morris Companies Inc. assembled in Richmond, Virginia for their pre-annual dinner meeting. Geoffrey Bible, CEO of Philip Morris at the time, introduced the evening’s guest speaker: national famed historian Stephen Ambrose. After Ambrose’s speech, Bible promised “a grant to the National D-Day Museum.”[5] To celebrate their 10th anniversary, the museum published a list with the founding contributors to the foundation. Philip Morris Companies Inc., are among those early beneficiaries.[6]

Ambrose has been reported by several sources to have testified for the tobacco industry.[7] He received $25,000 for the work he did as an expert witness in Covert v. Liggett Group. Laura Maggi quotes Ambrose under cross-examination whether he was working as an expert witness for the money: “Yes.”, he answered honestly.[8] Ambrose died, as a smoker, of lung cancer at the age of 66 in 2002.[9]


[1] Kirkpatrick, David. 2002. As Historian’s Fame Grows, So Do Questions on Methods. The New York Times, January 11. Accessed 31 Oct 2014.

[2] Kirkpatrick, as n. 1.

[3] Rayner, Richard. 2010. Channelling Ike. The New Yorker, April 26. Accessed 31 Oct 2014.

[4] Murray, Bring. 1995. Letter to Stephen Ambrose. 20/04/1995, 3. LTDL. Bates Number: 2045756873/6875. Accessed 31 Oct 2014.

[5] s.n. 1999. Suggested Remarks by Geoffrey C. Bible Chairman of the Board and CEO Philip Morris Companies Inc.: Introduction of Stephen E. Ambrose at the Dinner for the Board of Directors and Guests. 28/04/1999, 4. LTDL. Bates Number: 2077407403/7406. Accessed 31 Oct 2014.

[6] s.n. 2010. Annual-report National World War Two Museum, 16. Accessed 31 Oct 2014.

[7] Martin, Jonathan. 2003. Historians at the Gate: Accommodating Expert Historical Testimony in Federal Courts. The New York University Law Review 78, 1518-1519, 1539-1540. & Proctor, Robert. 2012. Golden Holocaust: Origins of the Cigarette Catastrophe and the Case for Abolition. Berkeley: University of California Press, 460.

[8] Maggi, Laura. 2001. Bearing Witness for Tobacco. The American Prospect, November 9. Accessed 31 Oct 2014.

[9] Wiener, Jon. 2010. Big Tobacco and the Historians. The Nation, February 15. Accessed 31 Oct 2014.