The next day, the front group that APCO had set up to discredit Sicko issued a statement warning against "a government takeover" of health care:
"Health Care America, a non-partisan, non-profit health care advocacy organization, released the following statement in response to a California rally held by Michael Moore and a variety of advocates in support of a government takeover of our health care system. "The reality is that government-run health systems around the world are failing patients - forcing them to forgo treatments or seek out-of-pocket care in other countries."
Bill Pierce was listed as the contact person for Health Care America, but if you had dialed the phone number listed for him at the organization, you would have reached him at his desk at APCO in Washington.
A week later, Moore held another screening, this one in Washington. He invited members of Congress, but few showed up. He also invited the heads of the big health care trade associations. None of them attended.
The industry, however, was prepared for the event. An ad targeting the movie appeared in Washington's newspapers. The message: "In America, you wait in line to see a movie. In government-run health care systems, you wait to see a doctor." The sponsor: Health Care America. For several weeks after that screening, APCO sent me and other PR chiefs daily reports of the stories it had placed in the media via Health Care America as well as the commentaries and op-eds APCO's recruits had had published in newspapers and other media outlets from coast to coast.
The campaign cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, all of which came from premiums paid by health- plan members, but industry executives felt this was a good and appropriate use of those premium dollars. Though Sicko grossed nearly $25 million at the box office in the United States, that figure wasn't even in the same ballpark as the $120 million that Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 had made on U.S. screens just three years earlier. We believed the industry's behind-the-scenes campaign against the movie might have had something to do with the comparatively small box office numbers. We were pleased that AHIP and APCO had succeeded in getting their talking points into most of the stories that appeared about the movie, and that not a single reporter had done enough investigative work to find out that insurers had provided the lion's share of funding to set up Health Care America.
We were also relieved that centrist Democrats had not embraced Sicko. All in all, the movie, in our view, had not succeeded in altering the "collective opinion." Spending the extra money to push Moore off the cliff had not been necessary.
More important, we considered the campaign against Sicko to be a warm-up act to the health care reform debate that all of us knew would begin in Congress soon after the next president took office. And most of us still believed that person would be the industry's former nemesis, Hillary Clinton.
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.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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