You may only read this site if you've purchased Our Kampf from Amazon or Powell's or me
• • •
"Mike and Jon, Jon and Mike—I've known them both for years, and, clearly, one of them is very funny. As for the other: truly one of the great hangers-on of our time."—Steve Bodow, head writer, The Daily Show

"Who can really judge what's funny? If humor is a subjective medium, then can there be something that is really and truly hilarious? Me. This book."—Daniel Handler, author, Adverbs, and personal representative of Lemony Snicket

"The good news: I thought Our Kampf was consistently hilarious. The bad news: I’m the guy who wrote Monkeybone."—Sam Hamm, screenwriter, Batman, Batman Returns, and Homecoming

September 19, 2009

Welcome Back, Potter

By: John Caruso

Former CIGNA Oberführer Wendell Potter, who to his eternal credit "finally came to question the ethics of what I had done and been a part of for nearly two decades" and left his lucrative health care-denial job to join the truth heroes at the Center for Media and Democracy, offers a timely overview of the ways his former industry has prevented any unprofitable changes to the U.S. health care system over the years.  An excerpt:

[T]he insurers formed a front group called the Health Benefits Coalition to kill efforts to pass a Patients Bill of Rights. While it was billed as a broad-based business coalition that was led by the National Federation of Independent Business and included the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Health Benefits Coalition in reality got the lion’s share of its funding and guidance from the big insurance companies and their trade associations. [...]

One of the key strategies of the Health Benefits Coalition as it was gearing up for battle in late 1998 was to stir up support among conservative talk radio and other media. Among the tactics the PR firm implemented for the Coalition was to form alliances with important conservative groups, such as the Christian Coalition and the Family Research Council, to get them to send letters to Congress or appear at HBC press conferences. The Health Benefits Coalition also launched an advertising campaign in conservative media outlets. The message was that President Clinton owed a debt to the liberal base of the “Democrat” Party and would try to pay back that debt by advancing the type of big government agenda on health care that he failed to get in 1994. The tactics worked. Industry allies in Congress made sure the Patients’ Bill of Rights would not become law.

And the conclusion, which makes an important point:

During my 20 years in corporate communications and public affairs, I participated in the steady growth and influence of largely invisible persuasion -- and at a time when newsrooms are shrinking and investigative journalism seems to be vanishing. The number of PR people long ago surpassed the number of working journalists in this country. And that ratio of PR people to reporters will continue to grow. The clear winners as this shift occurs are big, rich corporations and other special interests. The losers are average Americans, most of whom are completely unaware how their thoughts and actions are being manipulated to achieve corporate goals on Capitol Hill.

There are many reasons for the media's awfulness, but one of them is just the fact that reporters swim in an ocean of PR.  And as media corporations have cut staff over the years there's only been a greater motivation for those who remain to take the shortcuts they can—and the PR industry is right there to fill the gap.  Which is just one of the many ways that the pursuit of corporate profits makes it easier for CIGNA, Pfizer, and their cohorts to plant their lies in our heads.

By all means, read the rest—and you may also want to follow Potter's blog.

— John Caruso

Posted at September 19, 2009 01:23 PM

1-202-225-0100 DEMAND SINGLE PAYER.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at September 19, 2009 03:56 PM

The indefatigable Amy Goodman had Potter on in July. At times he appeared to be in agony over his behavior for CIGNA. This is a man who is determined to fix what he can.

Posted by: drip at September 19, 2009 04:19 PM

The was a study of the Washington Post about 20 years ago which found that about 50% of their articles were based on press releases.

Posted by: Edward at September 19, 2009 05:27 PM

By the way, the Center for Media and Democracy, which is based in my hometown of Madison, WI, is a wonderful organization that does great work on a shoestring (like the video news release investigation that John linked to.) Well worth a donation.

I like to think of groups like CMD as the good side of the phenomenon John mentions where the short-staffed media offloads their reporting on to other organizations. CMD does the investigative reporting that reporters used to do. Another group that does this in my state is Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, which has take over much of the investigative reporting on campaign finance. Maybe that's a way forward, to outsource reporting to non-profits?

Posted by: SteveB at September 19, 2009 07:22 PM

That's a great post, and a great comments too.

Edward, in astutely noting that half of the Wash Post's stories were based on press releases, neglected to mention that the other half were lies told by the government, usually Langley.

Journalism has long sucked (even back when Mark Twain called newspapers a way to be misinformed) because it has always been about selling ads and so pleasing those who the newspaper wants to buy the ad space. That's why George Seldes got disgusted with newspapers for never standing up to the tobacco companies and why I.F. Stone had to scrape by with his own newsletter, and those were the good old days when there were journalists. Now, as JC notes, we have PR people instead.

Posted by: N E at September 20, 2009 12:40 AM

I intended to mention that CMD was founded by John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton, and for anyone who's interested in reading more about how the PR industry washes our brains I highly recommend their excellent books Toxic Sludge Is Good For You and Trust Us, We're Experts.

Posted by: John Caruso at September 20, 2009 07:44 PM