Protesters or Faux-Testers?
This summer's health care town hall meetings have been turned into high-profile media opportunities for people shouting talking points crafted by anti-health reform front groups. These confrontations make "good news" but don't make for good policy. I don't doubt the sincerity of the anger of some of these seriously misinformed protesters, so I wouldn't label the lot "faux-testers," but these flames have been stoked by lie upon lie.
That the anger is real doesn't make it any less manufactured. It's literally a product, the sum of a public relations campaign orchestrated by some of the wealthiest interests in the country. The goal is to scare ordinary Americans, who've been shaken up by the economic crash of 2008, into opposing health care reforms intended to help protect them from insurance industry practices that hurt real people every day. As Rachel Maddow noted, the industry's profits have literally quadrupled while countless Americans have been denied coverage or squeezed with higher premiums for policies riddled with loopholes. Here is a great clip of her interviewing CMD's own Wendell Potter on this very subject.
FreedomWorks' Corporate Roots
This recent controversy over health reform is partly the product of a well-financed disinformation campaign by groups like "FreedomWorks, Inc." That's the name of a registered non-profit that is greatly funded by undisclosed for-profit corporations. Before this group was re-branded with a fancy new name, leaked documents showed that 85 percent of its funding came from huge donations from big companies, like Philip Morris, and right-wing foundations, like those funded by the mega-rich Scaifes. This was under its former name, "Citizens for a Sound Economy" (CSE), which was created by billionaire ideologue David Koch. Because its brand new name is more Orwellian than I can stand, I'm just going to call it "F-Works."
Grassroots, Astroturf, and the Cash-Roots
SourceWatch editors have noted that some past campaigns of F-Works have been dubbed "astroturf" to denote their fakery, such as angryrenter.com. Given the corporate dollars likely bankrolling the current misinformation campaign, an additional way to describe this came to my mind: cash-roots.
It Pays Big to Run Cash-Roots Campaigns
It's also a little difficult to think of this effort as one initiated by the little guy when the group's leaders are paid corporate executive-level salaries, which is understandable because it's really a corporate group. How well does F-Works pay? Richard "Dick" Armey, former U.S. House Majority Leader (R-TX), received $320,000 a year for working about 32 hours a week as the Chairman of F-Works' board, according to F-Works' most recent IRS filing. He received an additional $80,000 per year from its lobbying arm. And he didn't do any reported lobbying for them that year! That's four hundred grand. Part-time!
His other part-time job was as a hired gun for the huge American corporate law firm DLA Piper, which grossed $1.1 billion in receipts that year, with profit per partner of over $1 million. We don't know how much they paid Armey on top of his F-Works' take, but he did report lobbying for DLA Piper that year, including lobbying to get a designated foreign terrorist organization un-designated. Just last week, Armey announced he was leaving DLA Piper to spend more time on F-Works where, after all, he was earning big bucks on the side. Almost half a million dollars, part-time.
Fat Cats and Back-Scratching in DC
F-Works, by the way, takes credit for leading the fight against the Clinton Administration's failed health care reform, which they called "Hillary Care" (just as now protest signs oppose "ObamaCare"). And who was leading the fight against health care reform from inside Congress? Armey. He was the Majority Leader with then-Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (R-GA) who helped write the "Contract with America." These very lucrative revolving door relationships are just the kind of coziness between some politicians and front groups I saw time and time again in Washington, and that I plan to help expose in my new role as Executive Director of the Center for Media and Democracy. I'm especially happy to be here as we fight spin and deception by the heath insurance industry and its allies.
So, Here's the Real Question
Do you want a Wall Street fat cat, whose bottom-line is literally maximizing profit, between you and your doctor? That's one of the most important questions on the table in Bill Moyer's illuminating interview with Wendell, who is another reason I am so pleased to be leading CMD. We will be posting links to his major interviews on the home page of PRWatch.org so please check out our site to find more of this courageous whistleblower's insights into corporate PR and this raging debate.
Gratitude for a Real Visionary
I am very grateful to John Stauber, CMD's visionary founder, for sharing with me the opportunity to lead this important organization. His foresight in bringing on Wendell has opened a powerful, new chapter in CMD's mission. And, I'm thrilled to announce that John has accepted my invitation to stay on as a key advisor to CMD and me.
And There's More Great Work to Come!
These are just a few of the many reasons I seized the opportunity to become CMD's new Executive Director. Our team is providing important, unique resources and analysis in the current debates over policy changes affecting the health of people and our environment. We also have some bold, new initiatives up our sleeves that we'll be announcing soon. And, I'm excited to add my knowledge and style to the mix and have the kind of intellectual freedom, to dig deep and speak the truth on a wide range of issues, that has been CMD's hallmark since John founded the organization back in 1993. Given the high pitch of spin on critically important issues, we have a lot of work to do together, and I'm looking forward to fighting by your side!