A Verbal Slip on Countdown

by Wendell Potter on November 19th, 2010

What a difference a word can make — nothing short of the difference between good and evil.

During my interview on Countdown with Keith Olbermann on MSNBC Wednesday night, I explained the sinister work of an industry-funded front group to discredit Michael Moore as a filmmaker and citizen and especially of his 2007 movie Sicko. The PR firm hired by health insurers to do the evil deed set up and operated the front group, which it named “Health Care America,” to conduct a fear-mongering campaign designed to scare people away from the movie’s core message: that every developed country in the world except the United States has been able to achieve universal coverage for their citizens largely because they don’t allow big insurance companies to call the shots like they do here. I wrote about this in my book, Deadly Spin, in the chapter entitled “The Campaign Against Sicko.”

I inadvertently called the front group “Health Care America Now” in response to a question from Keith Olbermann. That misstatement has led to some confusion, so I want to set the record straight. Health Care for America Now is one of the good guys, in my view. It is a real grassroots organization comprising a broad range of groups throughout the country advocating for “quality, affordable health care.” Health Care America was what is commonly known as a fake grassroots or “Astroturf” organization. It was set up and operated by a big PR firm and funded by Big Insurance and Big Pharma.

For more information about Health Care for America Now (also known by its acronym, HCAN), visit its Web site at healthcareforamericanow.org. For more information about Health Care America, click this link, which will take you to the Sourcewatch.org page that describes the organization. The Web site for Health Care America no longer is active. It was dismantled shortly after its work to discredit Michael Moore and Sicko was done.

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Barbara Wilson November 19th, 2010 at 6:57 pm

I listened to you today on NPR and I thought “Wow!” You go Wendell!!! You have moxie and integrity. I admire you very much. We need more of you ilk in our society. Lots more. I feel this country is no longer a nation called America, at least as I know it in my life growing up. It is truly scary. I have never seem such hatred and disrespect for our President. It is shameful. I believe he will be our last great President if things keep going the way they seem to be. But if people like you speak the truth again and again and loudly, maybe the masses will wake up and stand up for what is right. There is power in numbers and we need all the truth speakers speaking loudly. Thank you again for your courage.

Elizabeth Wolf November 20th, 2010 at 1:47 pm

Mr. Potter: You are not telling the truth. APCO did not conduct research on Michael Moore’s family. We did not attempt to suppress turnout for his movie. You know there was never any suggestion to do anyone personal harm. If anyone listens closely to the interviews you have done, and pays attention to your use of words, they will see that you are being deceptive in your answers, leaving open all sorts of interpretations to your statements. You are entitled to your opinion. But these are the facts.

Elizabeth Wolf
Spokesperson, APCO Worldwide, Inc.

Kate Loving Shenk November 20th, 2010 at 5:19 pm

Hi Wendell, I am so glad you straightened up this confusion. I read the Donna Smith article in Common Dreams, and thought, “Oh-Oh!”

But the Health Insurance Industry tried to confuse all of us by coming up with similar acronyms–and succeeded.

Barak Obama concerns me because I see him as more and more of a Corporatist, and therefore, he will not be much of a help in this current crisis. I guess things have to get worse before they get better. And thanks to your book, a new lens is magnifying this crisis, which is exactly what we need.

Thank you.

Pete November 21st, 2010 at 10:23 pm

I heard you on Democracy Now a couple of days ago and was blown away! I congratulate you on your moral courage and wish there were more of you out there who would speak the truth about the greed and disconnection that exists in the insurance industry. I heard a heartbreaking example today from a fellow about how his son was denied an insulin pump for his diabetic condition, and I emailed him the clip from the show and encouraged him to contact the CEO of the insurance company until he got some sort of answer.

Keep up the fight!

Rosemary November 22nd, 2010 at 8:54 pm

Thank you Mr. Potter,
Saw you and Michael Moore on Countdown with Keith Olbermann. Now, I’m off to Amazon to buy your book, ‘Deadly Spin.’ I’m giving it to my Dr. as a Christmas gift.

You’re a very courageous man to speak out against the corporate gangsters who are standing in the way of America joining the rest of the industrialized world with Health Care for All. You and Michael should team up – now that’s a dynamic duo! Keep up the good fight – America needs more men like you, Alan Grayson, and Anthony Weiner, just to mention a few good men.

Nan Denis November 22nd, 2010 at 9:13 pm

Can’t wait to read your book . . . Michael Moore is dismissed by many, but I’m more convinced than ever that our country is in grave danger and people like Michael Moore give us our best chance to save ourselves. It’s frightening to me that the media is so easily used by the shills of Corporate America to shape public opinion. Shame on us for accepting their propaganda as fact (or at least as reasonable opinion) and not doing any research on their own to support or dispute the protestations of the insurance industry. My hat is off to you, Wendell Potter, for doing the right thing and telling the truth. You’re an inspiration.

Glenn November 23rd, 2010 at 8:57 am

Dear Mr. Porter:

Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! I can only imagine that this might be difficult for you for going up against a “mafia-like” organization. The Healthcare Monopoly is only ONE of such entities that exists in the country so that the shareholders and executives make bundles of money at the middle and poor class’ expense (Big Paharma, the HIV/AIDS debacle, our Incarceration Complex…).

I say, let’s make Healthcare part of the US Constitution, as an inalienable right – just like freedom and the pursuit of happiness! I’d like to see how someone would argue that a healthy citizenry is a bad thing. Excellent job Mr. Wendell! And my hats off to Michael Moore (I have never doubted his work and even have shown it to my advanced ESL students). I’ll be reading your book over the holidays.

Anne Harmon November 23rd, 2010 at 5:45 pm

Mr. Potter,

I would like to thank you from my heart for what you are doing now.

Having grown old and not in good health we have gone from a home-owner, 2 car family who gave gifts and sent Christmas cards to friends who believe it.

We are now–Renting a duplex , on a very busy street but near a grocery store so we can walk. We give no presents to anyone..We cannot afford to send cards at Christmas birthdays or any occassion. We now are a 1 car family. We drive a 1991 pickup truck that I got in a barter for my wonderful player piano. (so no music in our house)

While trying to get insurance under the COBRA Act Group Health which we had for over 20 years refused to cover me. they said my Colin Cancer was a pre existing condition and they would not help with any med’s or my ostomy supplies (which are expensive) I was coveered by Group Healkth when I got the cancer. They took care of my surgery, radiation, and Chemoi treatments,. So I had Group Heath got the cancer and now they say it is a pre-exisiting illness, Now I am on Medi-aid (welfare) and my husband has only the Social Security Health plan because we cannot afford any coverage that will pay what SS does not. This way of life was unheard of while we worked (my husband an Engineer and I as a FC bookkeeper) we have nothing. Everything we had was lost due to sickness. Why is this possible in America? The answer you know is because the Legislators of the US are all corrupt and take the bribes from the Insurance lobbyists.

I wish you well in what you are trying to do for those of us who have no voice. We cannot afford to attend rally’s, or make phone calls, or send letters. (Hell even my Internet connection is a gift from my brother who pay’s for it by the year for me.) I hope you will have some success in helping to obtain Universal health care for Americans. My sister-in-law who is Canadian has wonderful coverage. She has never once had to waitr for needed surgery or anything else (another lie by the Lobby an dUS Bribe takers who pretend to be Senators and Congressmen.)

Thank you for everything you try to do for us. My Heart thanks you for everything you do.

Anne Harmon
(68 yrs old, and li9ke manyu others wish I were dfead but don’t have the guts to do anything about it so I just bitch.) Thanks for reading this (if you do)

Patrick Keller November 23rd, 2010 at 11:45 pm

@Elizabeth Wolf
The “personal harm” reference is so ludicrous that you prove your opponent’s point. You are trying to spin an obvious and admittedly NON-literal quote in the book into nothing more than self-serving propaganda. And as for “interpretation”… ALL words are subject to interpretation. You, and too many others, make a living by ‘interpreting’ words well beyond any reasonable assumption of original intent and create lies toward a specific agenda. If this transparent post represents the best you can do — I suggest you find a new line of work. The tragedy of your post, and of the state of American discourse today, is how many will choose to believe your spin despite all the evidence to the contrary.

@Mr. Potter – my own sincere thanks added to all those already being offered. You are an American hero. The Olberman spot was great.

Wendell Potter November 24th, 2010 at 11:07 am

Ms. Wolf, my heart goes out to you. I stand by my words and the facts I’ve stated and will simply direct you to the subsequent post “My Apologies to Michael Moore and the Health Insurance Industry,” in which I reference the PR plan to counter Sicko, first discussed on Bill Moyers Journal in July 2009.

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