Much of McInturff's work has been devoted to what he describes as "'combat message development,' not simply monitoring public opinion, but developing messages to defend and promote client interests on complex public policy issues."
McInturff began his presentation by making it clear - and showing the evidence - that Americans were rapidly losing confidence in the private health insurance market. His first slide showed that there had been a significant shift in recent years and that a majority of people, according to his polls, were now saying the government should do more to solve the many problems that plagued the American health care system. Even more troublesome, a fast-growing percentage also embraced the idea that a government-run, publicly funded health care system - like the ones Moore portrayed in Sicko - should be implemented in the United States.
As a result of this trend and in anticipation of the first national debate on reforming the health care system since insurers had played a key role in killing the Clinton reform plan, AHIP had recently restructured its Strategic Communications Committee to include only CEOs. It had originally been made up of member companies' top PR people, and I had served on the committee as CIGNA's representative, but AHIP's board reasoned that the committee's recommendations would have greater clout throughout the industry if CEOs were perceived to have created them. (The PR chiefs, including me and my peers from the other companies that would be attending the second Philadelphia meeting, now comprised the Strategic Communications Advisory Committee.)
Also traveling to Philadelphia for the meeting were AHIP's Mike Tuffin and Robert Schooling, se nior vice president of the Washingtonbased PR firm APCO Worldwide. Tuffin and Schooling would be the main presenters of the industry's strategy against Sicko.
APCO was founded in 1984 by one of Washington's biggest law firms, Arnold & Porter, which is well known for its representation of the tobacco industry. From one office in Washington, APCO has grown into an international operation with offices in twenty- nine locations throughout North America, Eu rope, Asia, and Africa. On its Web site, APCO has referred to itself as "a global communications consultancy" specializing in "influencing decision-makers and shaping public opinion by crafting compelling messages and recruiting effective allies."
One of the deceptive practices of which APCO has a long history is setting up and running front groups for its clients. In 1993, Philip Morris hired APCO to or ga nize a front group called the Advancement of Sound Science Co ali tion in response to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's ruling that secondhand tobacco smoke was a carcinogen. Philip Morris also hired APCO to manage what it called a "massive national effort aimed at altering the American judicial system to be more hostile toward product liability suits" and to build a co ali tion to advocate for tort reform. According to the Center for Media and Democracy, the tobacco industry paid APCO almost a million dollars in 1995 to implement behind-the-scenes tort reform efforts and specifically to create chapters of "grassroots" citizens' groups called Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse.
A 1995 APCO pamphlet described how the firm helped corporations advance their goals by infl uencing lawmakers, drafting legislation and regulations, and creating business co ali tions tailored to specific issues: "We [APCO] use the most effective, up-to-date technology and campaign tactics to help you achieve your legislative and regulatory goals... [We have] built numerous national and state coalitions on a variety of issues including the environment, science, energy, trade, intellectual property, education, tort reform and health care... [We] apply tactics usually reserved for po liti cal campaigns to target audiences and recruit third-party advocates. Our staff has the political field experience and has written the direct mail, managed the telephones, crafted the tele vi sion commercials and trained the grassroots volunteers. We apply these hard-learned skills and tactics to mobilize hundreds, even thousands, of constituents. Or, when just the 'grasstops' are needed, we recruit just a few of a target's key friends or contributors to join us. No matter the issue, we bring together coalitions that are credible, persuasive and cost-effective."
Excerpted from Deadly Spin by Wendell Potter. Copyright © 2010 by Wendell Potter. Excerpted by permission of Bloomsbury. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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