Wendell Potter: Astroturf Front Groups and PR Firms Fed Bogus Info To Media In Attacks On “Sicko”
This is what America is up against. Obscenely wealthy individuals hiding behind sock puppet organizations playing our media and politicians like two-bit fiddles. Insurance companies make billions in profit by killing Americans and use that money to perpetuate the system. Until our leaders realize this and quit giving them a seat at the table, we will never move forward with the rest of the world.
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WENDELL POTTER: There’s no doubt we felt we were successful in blunting the impact of the movie. We were concerned that the movie would be as successful as Fahrenheit 9/11 had been. And we knew that if it were, it really would change public opinion about our healthcare system in ways that would be harmful to the profits of health insurers. So, it was very important for this campaign to succeed. At one point during a strategy meeting, one of the people from APCO said that if our efforts, our initial efforts, were not successful, then we’d have to move to an element of the campaign to push Michael Moore off a cliff. And not meaning to do that literally, but to—
AMY GOODMAN: Are you sure?
WENDELL POTTER: Well, I’m not sure. To tell you the truth, when I started doing what I’m doing, I was concerned about my own health and well-being, maybe just from paranoia. But these companies play to win. And we’re talking about some big bucks at stake here—billions and billions and billions of dollars.
AMY GOODMAN: So what were they talking about when they said, “If this doesn’t work, we’re going to push him off the cliff”?
WENDELL POTTER: Well, it would be just an incredibly intense PR effort, if necessary, to spend more premium dollars to defame Michael Moore, to discredit him even more as a filmmaker.
AMY GOODMAN: So, were you doing research on him?
WENDELL POTTER: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: You were going—personally?
WENDELL POTTER: Well, I was a part of the effort. I didn’t—that was part of the reason for hiring APCO and to work with a trade association, is that relieved me the responsibility of doing that kind of work. You paid for it to be done by people who were experts in doing that kind of research.
AMY GOODMAN: But they were doing an investigation into him personally?
WENDELL POTTER: Well, absolutely. We knew as much about him probably as he knows about himself.
AMY GOODMAN: About his wife, about his kid, about—
WENDELL POTTER: Oh, yeah. You know, it’s important to know everything that you might be able to use in some kind of a campaign against someone, to discredit them professionally and often personally.
AMY GOODMAN: And did you use that?
WENDELL POTTER: You use it if necessary.
AMY GOODMAN: Did you use it?
WENDELL POTTER: It was not—we didn’t deem it necessary to push him off a cliff, because we were very mindful of the box office totals. We looked at that every weekend to see how well it was doing, and we could see that it was not getting or drawing the audiences like Fahrenheit 9/11 did. And we thought that the efforts of Health Care America and our allies were succeeding.
AMY GOODMAN: When the film came out and you did the research, did you feel that you actually had contained it at the beginning? I think of a CNN critique that Sanjay Gupta did, Sanjay Gupta did.
WENDELL POTTER: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: Did you have anything to do with that?
WENDELL POTTER: I didn’t. Again, some of the reason you hire these big PR firms is you can do this with a little bit of a hands-off kind of operation. The big PR firms have very good connections with producers of network shows and cable shows and columnists and pundits. And so, you rely on them to be able to get your messaging out. And they’re very, very successful in influencing people about how they write or how they put a show together.
AMY GOODMAN: I mean, he was furious. Michael Moore went on CNN, was outraged, and said that everything they said about him wasn’t true. And in the end, CNN had to apologize.
WENDELL POTTER: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: They were not correct, what they said about Michael Moore’s film, that he had gotten his facts wrong.
WENDELL POTTER: I think CNN and Sanjay Gupta undoubtedly were embarrassed that they had been, frankly, duped by the insurance industry, probably not even aware of the role that the insurance industry was playing in that.
AMY GOODMAN: Did the insurance industry put out to all the networks—you had your chosen producers at all the networks—fact sheets on Sicko?
WENDELL POTTER: Not directly. Again, that’s why you hire these third parties, these PR firms, to do it for you, so that your involvement cannot be traced.