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View Full Version : Of Corporate Spying, Dirty Tricks & Lies - In This Case US Health Insurance



Peter Lemkin
11-24-2010, 08:37 AM
AMY GOODMAN: We begin today with an update on a story that has gotten a lot of attention since Democracy Now! first covered it last week. The former health care industry spokesperson Wendell Potter has apologized to filmmaker Michael Moore for his role in the insurance industry’s attack on his documentary Sicko.

In his new book, Deadly Spin: An Insurance Company Insider Speaks Out on How Corporate PR is Killing Health Care and Deceiving Americans, Wendell Potter reveals the insurance industry funded a public relations campaign to discredit Michael Moore and the film.

Wendell Potter discussed the campaign on Democracy Now! last week.Then MSNBC host Keith Olbermann picked up our interview on his show Countdown.

KEITH OLBERMANN: Potter telling Democracy Now! and Amy Goodman that his company contracted a PR firm to “defame Michael Moore, to discredit him,” to figuratively, “Push Michael Moore off a cliff.”

AMY GOODMAN:–but they were doing an investigation into him personally?

WENDELL POTTER: Absolutely. We knew as much about him probably as much as he knows about himself.

AMY GOODMAN: About his wife, about his kids?

WENDELL POTTER: Oh yeah. It is important to know everything you might be able to use in some kind of a campaign against someone to discredit them personally and often professionally.

AMY GOODMAN: And do you use that?

WENDELL POTTER: We use it if necessary.

AMY GOODMAN: Wendell Potter was the Head of Corporate Communications for the insurance giant CIGNA and before that, Humana. But he was the Chief Spokesperson for CIGNA when “Sicko” was released. He left CIGNA in 2008 and has since become the insurance industry’s most prominent whistleblower.

On Monday, Potter wrote on his blog, “I need to apologize to Michael Moore for the role I played in the insurance industry’s public relations attack campaign against him and Sicko, which was about the increasingly unfair and dysfunctional U.S. health care system,” said Potter.

Last night, Keith Olbermann had Wendell Potter and Michael Moore on in their first joint interview.

MICHAEL MOORE: It is the first time we have had a chance to talk. Wendell, first of all, you are the Daniel Ellsberg of corporate America.

AMY GOODMAN: Today on Democracy Now! we’re continuing the conversation. Michael Moore is on the phone with us. He’s the Academy Award-winning filmmaker, the director behind Sicko and many other films including, Capitalism: A Love Story. He’s joining us on the telephone from Florida. And Wendell Potter is joining us from Philadelphia, now a Senior Fellow on Health Care for the Center for Media and Democracy. We welcome you both to Democracy Now!

You’ve issued that public letter, Wendell Potter, to Michael Moore, but I was wondering if you could talk about this apology here, if you could talk directly to Michael.

WENDELL POTTER: I will. It is a very sincere apology – I’m getting some feedback here, but –

AMY GOODMAN: It’s OK, we don’t hear it.

WENDELL POTTER: OK, the apology was sincere because I wanted to make sure that Michael understood that what I was doing was not what I really now feel was the appropriate thing to do. I was acting on behalf of the insurance industry to – as I just told Keith Olbermann and Michael last night – I even flew to Bellaire, Michigan, to be there for the premiere, the official premiere, of the film Sicko taking notes in the back of the theater and even posing for a photograph without telling Michael who I was or who worked for.

I know, after having seen the movie actually more than once, that Michael Moore took great care to make sure that it was an accurate portrayal of the U.S. health care system and also systems abroad that do a much better job of caring for their citizens, making sure that every person in the countries abroad, that are developed countries, have access to quality health care.

We now have more than 51 million people who don’t have care or access to care because they’re uninsured. But even almost a worse problem, to a large extent, is the fact that a lot of people do have insurance. They’re paying premiums to insurance companies every month and they’re finding out when it is too late that the insurance is often either inadequate, or they’re told by an insurance company bureaucrat, that what they need is not going to be a covered benefit.

AMY GOODMAN: We have that photo here of you and your son Alex, Wendell, getting your picture taken with Michael Moore when Sicko came out. Where was this?

WENDELL POTTER: That was at the, I think, the Bellaire Bar and Grill, which is across the street from the theater. It was just before the official first screening of the movie in the U.S., in a little town where Michael and his wife have a home, or had a home, and I had flown to Detroit, rented a car, and drove up there. Alex went with me. He has always been a movie buff and a big fan of Michael Moore’s and I wanted him to go to experience this.

I, frankly, had seen the movie a few days before in Sacramento. That was the unofficial first screening in the U.S. at an event sponsored, at least partly, by the California Nurses Association. So I knew what was in the movie. I really wanted to go back again to see if something might have changed, but I was affected the first time, there was no doubt about it, and I wanted my son to come and experience the movie with me.

AMY GOODMAN: Michael Moore, do you remember that moment in Michigan when this man and his son came up to you – which I am sure for you happens thousands of times – to get their picture taken, and Alex got the poster signed?

MICHAEL MOORE: Hi, Amy, and good morning, Wendell. And again, Wendell, I really wanted to say just how much I appreciate your bravery in coming forward and the things you have said and done in this incredible, wonderful book you have written. And I, of course, accept your apology.

And I think we both know this is much larger than what was done to me or the movie because, as you say in the first sentence of your book, "There are 45,000 people in America every year that die for the simple fact they do not have health insurance, and that you were one of the people that helped to make those deaths happened." So it is a very powerful opening of this incredible book.

But Amy, to answer your question, I just saw this picture for the first time yesterday, when Wendell posted it. Remarkably enough, even though I’ve seen Wendell on television here over the last year, his testimony at Congress, and the good work that he has been doing, when I actually saw the picture yesterday, I did have a memory of it. And you’re right; I’ve had my picture taken a few times in the last few years. So normally, it would not stand out.

But what struck me yesterday and what sort of triggered the memory was that you have to understand the screening that was taking place – I decided that this very close screening after I got back from the Cannes film festival – in this little village. It’s a very small, tiny, not even one stoplight – one blinking light – little tiny town that has probably less than a thousand people in it. So everybody knows everybody. We decided to have this little reception before the screening in this little bar across the street.

Clearly, Wendell and his son were people that none of us knew, that I didn’t know and didn’t recognize. I didn’t really think anything of it at that time because obviously it is a free country and people do cross township lines to see movies in other towns and whatever, and probably just thought that that at the time.

But nonetheless, he did stand out not only to myself, but to my friends and family who were there – and that’s primarily who was there in this fairly small crowd of people – because he wasn’t from there and he wasn’t from this little town. Just the amount of effort it would take when he says that he flew into Detroit and rented a car, it is at least a four-hour drive, if not longer, from Detroit. It is way up in the woods of northern Michigan.

I am only talking to Wendell Potter for the second time in my life here – actually, the third now, counting the photo that was taken there at the premiere – but I have to say, just to be completely honest, Amy, when I watched your show last week when Wendell, you were on it, when you got to this part that you just played, where you talked about the sort of spying that when on and the information-gathering and knowing, as you said, as much about myself as I know about myself, and when you asked him, Amy, even about his wife and child and all that, I actually had to stop watching it because, it...

You know, I do what I do because I think it is the right thing to do, and I’ve have spent most of my adult life doing what I do. I’ve also seen the impact that this has had on my family and those close to me because of the enormous amount of attack that I have gone through since Roger and Me, that started with an intense disinformation campaign by General Motors at that time, saying many of the same things that Wendell and his group said about me when Sicko came out, while much of the language that’s used against me – both from the PR group that the insurance companies hired to the henchman from General Motors twenty-one years ago – much of that language and much of that attack is focused around that “This guy, Michael Moore, hates America. He hates your way of life. He wants to ruin your way of life, and if he gets his way, we’re all heading down the road toward socialism, communism and total ruin, and godlessness and everything else.”

For a goodly number people who are sitting in front of Fox television or listening to Rush Limbaugh, who then take the talking points developed by the groups that were hired by the insurance companies and these other groups that I’ve made my films about – whether it is the National Rifle Association or General Motors or Nike or the Bush White House – they don’t take kindly to this. It is not just because I’ve made the film, but because so many people go to see these films and it crosses over. In a way they’re very used to those of us on the left talking amongst ourselves, essentially. We talk to ourselves and everything is fine and dandy. Then we get all riled up and that’s about where it stops.

It is not often that one of us gets to reach a mainstream mass audience and gets our work published by mainstream publishing houses or carried on mainstream television networks or distributed by large Hollywood studios – very, very rare. That’s what makes it dangerous.

And that is what then makes these groups – all the way from General Motors twenty years ago to Wendell’s group and the insurance companies just a couple of years ago – where they go on this kind of very vicious attack. These attacks inspire people that are maybe not as stable as they are, if I can say that, and this has wreaked a lot of havoc and damage to both myself and those close to me.

As I said to you back in April, Amy, when I was there with you and Patti Smith at the opening of your studio, I don’t really like to talk about this very much publicly and I’m not going to say anything more specifically about it at this point. But suffice it to say, that this kind of spying on me – corporate spying, that then leads to disinformation campaigns, smear campaigns, and revving up the hate machine on the hate networks – does not bode well for me or those around me.

It has given me pause often to question whether or not I should really continue doing this, just for all the normal reasons that any human being would question themselves when faced with the kind of attack that happens when groups like the health insurance companies’ groups, that got together and, according to Wendell Potter in his book, spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to go after me personally and to go after this film.

AMY GOODMAN: We are going to break and then come back to this discussion. On the line from Florida with us is Michael Moore, Academy Award-winning filmmaker. What we’re talking today is his film Sicko, and how it was targeted not only by CIGNA, Wendell Potter’s former employer – he was the chief spokesperson for CIGNA, but this was a coordinated campaign, Wendell Potter says, not just CIGNA, but when Sicko began to get buzz even before it came out, the insurance industry got together to figure out how to target the film and the filmmaker, Michael Moore.

Wendell Potter, former spokesperson for CIGNA, now a whistleblower, and Michael Moore are our guests. Stay with us.

[music break]

AMY GOODMAN: We’re speaking with two people, one had the other in his cross hairs for quite a while. Wendell Potter, former chief spokesperson for CIGNA, before that, Humana, now Senior Fellow in Health Care for the Center for Media and Democracy, and author of a new book called Deadly Spin: An Insurance Company Insider Speaks Out on How Corporate PR is Killing Health Care and Deceiving Americans. One of the chapters in that book deals directly with the campaign against Sicko and Michael Moore. The Academy Award winning filmmaker is joining us on the telephone.

I’m looking at, Wendell, "Ensuring Accurate Perceptions of the Health Insurance Industry" May 2007. It’s about two dozen pages of analysis of how the insurance company should deal with Michael Moore, a total strategy. I’m looking at page 3, "Situation Analysis: Media Coverage". It shows the media coverage- New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Bloomberg, AP- that "Sicko" was getting and it says, "Coverage has largely been cinematic, then political reporters are beginning to cover the fallout from the movie. The film’s vignettes are getting independent coverage, Sicko is a hit with bloggers". Can you talk about who CIGNA and other insurance companies hired? I know we did this last week, but because it is so rarely talked about and the rest of the media actually uses the front group’s and acts like they’re consumer organizations and consumers who are concerned, I think it bears repeating again. Explain what APCO is and how you moved forward in targeting Michael.

WENDELL POTTER: I will, and as I explained in Deadly Spin, the insurance industry and other big industries have hired APCO in particular, but also other PR firms to do this kind of work to, as they put it, "re-frame the debate". The Insurance Industry’s Trade Association- America’s Health Insurance Plans- that’s the entity that actually hired APCO. The way it works come your premium dollars and mine, we pay them to the insurance company, they scam a significant portion of it off, not only for profits for profits and to pay CEO’s but also for lobbying and disinformation campaigns like we’re talking about here. That money goes as kind of a special offering, if you will, to AHIP- America’s Health Insurance Plans- and they in turn higher APCO or another big PR firm to develop and begin to implement this kind of a campaign.

AMY GOODMAN: Wendell Potter, APCO is "AP". That’s Arlen Porter, the big law firm in Washington?

WENDELL POTTER: AP- the "A" and "P" is from Arlen Porter, you’re right. He has a big law firm that in years past has been one of the firms that has represented the tobacco industry. The industry felt it needed to have some help in the court of public opinion as well as the real courts, so APCO World Wide was born. And it has done just that, it has served as a means for corporations that have legal issues or legislative issues to try to influence public opinion, to influence how legislation is written and how the courts and judges rule on cases involving them.

AMY GOODMAN: And the issue of people like Sarah Berk- whoever she is, you can explain- and others acting as their consumers. The organization called, what, American Health Care?

WENDELL POTTER: Yes, as I explained in Deadly Spin, the front group that was created was Health Care America. I have learned subsequently, in fact- this is kind of ironic- I was called to task by an executive at APCO for saying that it was created solely to attack Sicko by the insurance industry, or actually for the insurance industry. I did not realize until after getting that information that it was actually created several months earlier by APCO for the big drug companies. They thought they were going to be in the cross-hairs of Sicko. It was initially created for the big pharmaceutical- or, well yeah, with money from the big pharmaceutical companies- it was repurposed as the movie was about to be screened for the insurance industry- and for all big special interest, frankly, that have a stake or a financial interest in the status quo of our health care system. That’s what is really going on here.

MICHAEL MOORE: Can I just clarify something here?

AMY GOODMAN: Yes, Michael Moore.

MICHAEL MOORE: Wendell, just let me clarify something here, just so no one gets confused about APCO and Health Care America. While they may have been put together months earlier- initially by pharmaceutical company money- it was still, uh, the intent of it was always still about attacking me and attacking Sicko. And as soon as Sicko left the theaters and as soon as the Oscars were over- the film was nominated for Best Documentary that year- and I have put this on my website, you can see where Health Care America’s web site just essentially shuts down and the so-called organization- remember, this is a fake organization- just disappears. The reason- the pharmaceutical companies had jumped in before Wendell’s companies had jumped in- was because they and everyone else thought Sicko was going to be about the pharmaceutical companies. Which was not exactly a mistake, because while we were making the film, and we announced in Cannes back in 2004 actually that our next film would be about the health industry. For some reason, the newspapers and the media started talking about it as a film about the pharmaceutical companies, which we found funny because we knew most of our attention was going to be directed toward health insurance companies, which we consider it essentially to be a form of legal, organized crime. These companies provide protection for you and stick you up in order to do that. And then, often when the the protection, they aren’t there to help you, much like the mob. Actually, the mob probably does a better job if you pay them for protection and the health insurance companies do.

The reason we chose to go after that instead of the pharmaceuticals, in part- and there needs to be, and have been some great documentaries made about the pharmaceutical companies- but we actually do need medicine. Medicine isn’t a bad idea. Somehow, we need to figure out a way to do that where it is not about the billions in profits that are being made. Anyways, the pharmaceuticals started this whole thing before the insurance companies, thinking they were the target. We did not dissuade them of thinking that. It gave us great cover while we were doing our film on the insurance companies to have them- you know, the insurance companies- not thinking that at the beginning that it was about them. And the pharmaceutical companies, Wendell, I don’t know if you know this, but long before your groups got together to do the spying on me and the research and getting this disinformation, there were already very much at work. And whistle blowers and pharmaceutical companies would send me memos and reports and studies while we were making the film.

There was one pharmaceutical company that hired a psychologist to do a psychological profile of me. I don’t know how this information was obtained, I don’t know how he did this. But when I saw the secret memo where it was essentially distributed to the top executives of this pharmaceutical companies to prepare them- in case myself or my camera crew or whatever encountered them come to ask them questions about the pharmaceutical companies- that the psychological profile of me was to help them essentially get me off the topic or distract me. Just to give them a few seconds or minutes to get out of the situation they were in: you know, finding themselves on camera with me. And so on this psychological profile, I went down this list of things and the very first thing it said on the list was, "To get him to stop talking about the pharmaceutical companies, compliment him on his weight loss, even if he hasn’t lost any." [LAUGHTER]

WENDELL POTTER: Yeah, we had been hearing about some of these things that were being leaked to you by the pharmaceutical industry. And as a consequence, as I explained my Deadly Spin, we went to great care to make sure when we wrote an e-mail, that we would never use Sicko or your name in the subject line or in the body. We called you "Hollywood" and we were prepared to, if we ever got ambushed, to say, "Aren’t you Michael Moore, the Hollywood entertainer? It’s a pleasure to meet you! Now I have to go on to my next meeting." So we wanted to make sure if we wrote anything that it was obscure enough, and we wrote it in code so that if it were to get into our hands, it would not be anything you could use, necessarily, against us.

AMY GOODMAN: Now Michael, you recently wrote in a blog at Huffington Post, "There was really one reason Sicko did not sell as many tickets as Fahrenheit, and that was because of a felony that was committed. A felony that I will discuss for the first time in the coming weeks or months ahead on my website. Stay tuned." What are you talking about?

MICHAEL MOORE: Well, I can’t talk about that today, Amy, because I’m speaking to the authorities about this because a crime was committed. I’m not allowed, uh, I really can’t say anything else about this morning. But I do plan to publicly speak about this in the coming weeks or months, as soon as this happens and as soon as, you know, those responsible for the actions that were taken and the things that were done are arrested.

AMY GOODMAN: One other question, and that is about Republicans, and the Republican Party working with the insurance industry. Wendell Potter, if you could conclude on that point, how you organized. Wendell?

WENDELL POTTER: Well, it was very important to keep investing in Republican candidates. The insurance industry has funneled a lot of money into Republican campaigns for many years, and they certainly did over the last few years, and leading up to the midterms. They do that because they know if they invest in these Republicans, they can count on them to vote the way they want them to. We saw that happening during the recent debate on the health care reform bill. They voted in lockstep with what the insurance industry wanted. Now, the bill that emerged included a lot the insurance industry wanted, but it also has very good consumer protections in it. But, you know, Anthony Wiener, the Congressman from New York, said on the House floor at one point that the Republican Party was wholly a subsidiary of the insurance industry. He wasn’t really off the mark all that much. They really have been almost bought and paid for. I’m not a partisan. Everybody in my family is Republican, I think. But I have seen this happen. I know what is going on. I know they can count on Republicans to do what they want them to do and to say the things they want them to say. That is a big part of the strategy here, if you’ll see it. You can find a copy of this- Bill Moyers’ journal was able to obtain a copy of the strategy you mentioned.

AMY GOODMAN: And we will have a link to it.

WENDELL POTTER: Part of it describes how they were using both Blue Dog Democrats and Republicans to scare people away from Michael Moore and Sicko.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Michael. In his memoir Decision Points, former President Bush writes, "In 2000, our 'October Suprise' had come in the form of the DUI revelation. In 2004, it came from Osama Bin Laden. On October 29th, the Al-Qaeda leader released a videotape threatening Americans with another Manhattan and mocking my response to 9/11 in the Florida classroom. It sounded like he was plagiarizing Michael Moore. 'Americans will not be intimidated or influenced by an enemy of our country,' I said." Your final response, Michael?

MICHAEL MOORE: He is also essentially referring to myself as an enemy of the country and that is the line that Karl Rove and all the people put out about me when Fahrenheit 9/11 came out. And someday there will be a Wendell Potter from the Bush administration who will talk about that campaign against that film and against me at that time. My final words here, Amy, and to Wendell, and really, actually to the people who are listening and watching right now. In this strategy report that you just referred to, the secret report that the insurance companies put together about the damage that Sicko could do, there is a line in there, and I don’t have it in front of me right now, but it essentially says that our worst case scenario with this film- with Sicko–if this should happen, is that the film could trigger a populist uprising against us. The companies, as Wendell points out in his book, they already knew in ’06 and ’07 from their own internal polling that the American public was fed up with these for-profit insurance companies and there were so scared, as Wendell has said here, of a tipping point, of something happening. They were afraid that this film might be that tipping point. They had to pull out all the stops to stop it and to stop me.

Let me just say that line- in that report, in their strategy plan- is a compliment to everybody listening and watching this show because that is really what they’re concerned about. Not about Michael Moore. Not about some 90-minute movie. They’re concerned that you, the people listening right now, might do something. And they know that it could happen at any point. They know it because they know that there are more of us than there are of them. They know the math of that. And if the people ever woke up, and if the people ever stood up, if the people ever got active, if the people ever stood up and said, "That is the end of this. This is a sick system- that will allow companies to profit off of us when we fall ill!" They’re so afraid of that happening. If they didn’t think that your listeners and the people who care about these issues- especially people on the left- were there, then they would not bother with any of that! They wouldn’t spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to try to stop a little movie. They’re really concerned that the people do exist, that the anger about this exists, and the people will eventually stop it.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to leave it there, Michael.

MICHAEL MOORE: Well, congratulations to everybody.

AMY GOODMAN: Thank you both for being on. In Wendell Potter’s words, from Deadly Spin, "If Moore’s movie attracted big audiences and generated a lot of buzz, it might embolden one or more Democratic candidates to join Representative Dennis Kucinich in endorsing the expansion of Medicare to cover everybody. The increasingly profitable insurance industry would find itself in a war for survival." That’s quoting from Wendell Potter’s book Deadly Spin, written by the former chief spokesperson for SIGNA and before that Humana, who is know the chief whistleblower outside of the insurance industry. I want to thank you, as well as Academy Award winning filmmaker Michael Moore for being with us today.