If you want to know how things really get done in Washington — or don’t get done, depending on the desires of America’s corporate executives — all you have to do is read a couple of paragraphs in a Jan. 23 Philadelphia Inquirer story (see page 2).
Reporter Joe DiStefano quotes a vice president at APCO Worldwide — one of DC’s most powerful and influential PR firms — in response to questions about my book, Deadly Spin. Throughout the book I disclose the previously secretive work APCO did for the health insurance industry to manipulate public opinion on health care reform, in part by trying to scare people away from a movie, Michael Moore’s 2007 documentary Sicko.
The surprising gem in the Inquirer piece was that APCO VP Bill Pierce essentially agreed with me. He acknowledged that interest-funded pressure groups “are all over the place” in Washington. “That’s how everybody exists here,” Pierce said.
He’s right. That is indeed how the influence peddlers and spinmeisters exist (although a much more accurate word is thrive) in Washington.
Credit Where Credit is Due
Here’s the context. Pierce — an old (and probably now former) friend from my nearly two decades inside the insurance industry — was quoted by DiStefano as saying that I erred when I wrote that APCO set up and operated a fake grassroots front group, Health Care America, to discredit Moore and his movie because insurance company executives were terrified that Sicko would convince even more Americans that the government should play a much greater role in the U.S. health care system.
The trend was already going against the industry: In the spring of 2007, a few weeks before Sicko’s U.S. premier, the insurance industry’s pollsters told the executives that for the first time ever, more than half of all Americans were so disillusioned with the way private insurers controlled the health care system that they wanted more government involvement.
My error, according to Pierce, is not in pointing out that APCO was doing the dirty work of the industry through its phony front group — but that I failed to acknowledge the role that other big special interests played in funding Health Care America, as well. (Pierce was listed on the now-defunct group’s press releases as Health Care America’s media contact.
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