The Center for Media and Democracy's Senior Fellow Wendell Potter has been awarded the 2011 Ridenhour Book Prize for his work, Deadly Spin: An Insurance Company Insider Speaks Out on How Corporate PR is Killing Healthcare and Deceiving Americans.
In 2007, Wendell was the head of Public Relations and Corporate Communications for CIGNA when the insurer denied a life-saving liver transplant to Nataline Sarkisyan, a 17 year old California girl who suffered from leukemia. Desperate to save their daughter's life, Nataline's parents organized protests and demonstrations against CIGNA. The company eventually yielded to public pressure and reversed its decision -- but too late. Nataline died just two hours after CIGNA approved the operation.
Nataline's case profoundly effected Wendell. He gradually felt that he had "sold his soul" by being "part of a industry that would do whatever it took to perpetuate its extraordinarily profitable existence." Wendell quit the insurance industry and started working tirelessly to make the public aware of the industry's widepsread unethical practices and PR techniques, and the harm these practices cause Americans.
Each year, the Ridenhour Prize honors an outstanding work of social significance from the previous publishing year. The Prize honors Wendell for having the courage to walk away from a lucrative, longstanding corporate career to speak out against the industry he worked in, and write an important expose' about an industry that values profits over human lives.
The Ridenhour Prize is named for Vietnam veteran Ronald L. Ridenhour, who wrote a detailed letter to Congress in 1969 describing events at the infamous My Lai massacre of March 16, 1968 in which a unit of the U.S. Army violently murdered an entire village of unarmed Vietnamese civilians -- mostly women, children, babies and elderly. The letter led to an investigation of the events that day, and the eventual conviction of the man responsible. After serving in Vietnam, Ridenhour became an investigative journalist. He died suddenly in 1998, at age 52.
Past winners of the Ridenhour Book Prize include Jane Mayer, a staff writer for The New Yorker, for her book The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals; James D. Scurlock, for his book Maxed Out: Hard Times in the Age of Easy Credit, about average Americans' vulnerability to the predatory and unethical lending policies of banks and credit card companies, and Rajiv Chandrasekaran, author of Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone, which looks at the disastrous post-war planning that contributed to chaos in Iraq.
Please join CMD in congratulating Wendell for his contribution to society, and for winning this exceptional prize.