Almost two years ago, former health insurance PR executive Wendell Potter published his tell-all book, Deadly Spin, about the deceptive media campaigns and PR trickery the health insurance industry uses to beat back meaningful health care reform in the U.S. Potter pointed out the striking similarities between the insurers' tactics and those the tobacco industry applied for decades to delay regulation and confuse people about the health hazards of smoking and secondhand smoke. These manipulative PR tactics held off meaningful tobacco regulation for over 40 years, and also proved highly successful for the insurance industry, which used the same strategies to defeat true health care reform. Now Al Gore is pointing out that the energy, steel and utility industries are applying those same, tricky and time-worn PR strategies to confuse people about global warming and delay efforts to address it.
It's our responsibility as journalists to let the public know who is paid by what corporation, or if they're representing the government. Otherwise, it's unforgivable. The media is our lens on the world. And it is absolutely critical we trust the media. Because, ultimately, when people are terrorized, when people are targeted, when people are marginalized, that does not make any of us safer.
- Amy Goodman, interview in "Programming the Nation?" documentary
On July 11, Chesapeake Energy, the second largest methane gas corporation in the United States, announced its "bold new plan": a "Declaration of Energy Independence" for America's energy future. ("Natural gas" is the public relations term the industry uses for methane gas, because it sounds so much more appealing than the real name.)
The plan is double-pronged and will no doubt lead to increased levels of fracking, the process drilling companies use to extract methane gas in areas like the Marcellus Shale and other shale deposits throughout the country. Fracking is a dirty process, as indicated by the Center for Media and Democracy's ongoing look into the state-by-state and federal legislative push for domestic gas drilling.
The American Legislative Exchange Council's Annual Meetings and Task Force Summits are held in some of the nation's top travel destinations, at swanky hotels where state legislators and corporate executives enjoy lavish accommodations and exclusive excursions.
Ridge, now 65 years-old, has worn multiple hats throughout his extensive political career.
Among them: first-ever head of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) under the Bush Administration from 2003-2005, former Governor of Pennsylvania from 1995-2001, and former Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives from from 1983-1995.
I turned 43 a couple of weeks after I joined CIGNA in 1993. One of the birthday gifts from my new colleagues was a framed, three-word quote by E. B. White: "Be obscure clearly."
We laughed and laughed. It was an inside joke -- and a perfect present for an HMO PR guy who more than a few times had to be obscure when responding to media inquiries. Reporters always wanted more information than I dared give them, but I had to give them something. Hence the need to follow White's sage advice.
That quote, by the way, was in Elements of Style, the classic 1959 book on writing that White co-authored with William Strunk, Jr. White was not actually recommending obscure writing. He was just saying that if for some reason you felt you could not tell the whole truth, if there was no choice but to be obscure, at least use the active voice and proper grammar while doing it.
As evidence mounts linking sugar consumption to increasing rates of heart disease, cancer and diabetes, the soda industry is fighting back, in part by ramping up philanthropy and developing partnerships. After the Philadelphia City Council introduced a measure to add a two-cent tax on soda, the soda industry's lobbying group, the American Beverage Association created the "Foundation for a Healthy America," a new front group that donated $10 million to the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia -- to expand its obesity program. The soda tax would have raised about $20 million for obesity prevention programs plus even more money for the city's general fund. Despite this, the soda tax proposal fizzled and Philadelphia's City Council declined to revisit the issue. In a similar move, Coca Cola funded a North Carolina School of Public Health campaign against childhood obesity. The slogan? "Everything in moderation." Even the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation issued a report titled (pdf) "F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America's Future," which contains an odd "personal perspective" written by Pepsi CEO, Indra Nooyi, that reads like a press release. Nooyi boasts about Pepsi's partnership with the YMCA, promotes the company's "responsible advertising" and a self-regulatory project in which the company apparently monitors its own advertising to children under 12.
Today will go down in the public relations history books as the day health insurers and their allies began a coordinated campaign to ensure that the health care reform law is implemented in ways that will benefit them way more than the rest of us. Today is the day they plan to launch their brand new front group -- drum roll, please -- the Choice and Competition Coalition (CCC). But first, a bit of context.
In a chapter of my book, Deadly Spin, entitled "The Playbook," I explain the remarkable track record that big corporations and their lobbyists have in getting the American public to buy the bill of goods they're selling. They bring out the Playbook, I note, for a single objective: to influence public policy by manipulating public opinion.
The Playbook comprises a set of activities that have long worked beautifully for industries fighting proposed new laws, regulations or taxes that are designed to make them behave in more socially responsible ways.
Since you likely don't pay as much attention to the behavior of insurance companies as I do, you probably are not aware that CIGNA, my last employer, was fined $600,000 by the North Carolina Department of Insurance earlier this week for, among other things, not charging its customers correctly.
It was the second largest fine ever levied by the state's regulators, the largest being a $1.8 million fine in 2003 against Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina for underpaying claims for emergency care. The news about the CIGNA fine was picked up by a few media outlets in the state, but not many, and it got almost no press coverage outside of the state. In addition to the fine CIGNA has been ordered to pay, the company will have to shell out several hundred thousand dollars in refunds to North Carolina employers whom regulators say were charged too much over a three-year period.