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November 18th, 2010 4:03 AM

Wendell Potter on the Anti-SiCKO Smear Campaign on Countdown with Keith Olbermann -- 11/17/10

OLBERMANN: Last night, we told you about the anti-government health care congressman-elect who demanded his government health care the very day he starts his new job. Today, the anesthesiologist from Maryland attempted to remove the foot from his mouth and botched the procedure.

Also, in our fourth story, more details on the health care industry's covert attempt to submarine the health care reform they promised to facilitate -- and explosive revelations from health insurance company whistleblower Wendell Potter who says his own company, CIGNA, was so scared of what Michael Moore's 2007 documentary "SiCKO" would do to its bottom line that they sought a, quote, "campaign to push Michael Moore off a cliff."

Michael Moore has responded, Wendell Potter is our guest next.

First, to doctor-elect, congressman, whatever, Andy Harris. Yesterday, "Politico" reported the account on an anonymous staffer who was in the room with Harris for his freshman orientation. He had campaigned on repealing health care reform. He was allegedly steamed when he found out he had to wait a month for his government subsidized health care to kick in.

Today, in an interview with FOX, Dr. Harris disagreed with the portrayal of his tone, but not the content of the report, quoting, "It was a simple question any employee should ask. Oh, and by the way, how do I get my health insurance to be seamless?"

The new lawmaker, who has previously said there is no constitutionally mandated role of the federal government in health care, then suggested, quote, "The best solution would be for the federal government to say, yes, we do provide coverage and it's from day one." For him. Not for you.

Today, "Bloomberg News" revealing the extent to which insurance companies went to kill the reform that we did get, citing tax records and people familiar with the donation. "Bloomberg" reports that on August 2009, America's Health Insurance Plans, AHIP, the advocacy group that represents companies like United Health, and Aetna, and Humana, funneled $86.2 million to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which in turn spent that money on advertising, polling, and a grassroots campaign to defeat health care reform.

Publicly, AHIP was onboard with health care reform. Recall AHIP CEO Karen Ignani's pledge to the president in March of last year.


KAREN IGNANI, AHIP CEO: We want to work with you. We want to work with the members of Congress on a bipartisan basis here. You have our commitment.


OLBERMANN: And then there was the commitment by the health care giant Cigna to professionally and personally discredit Michael Moore. Former Cigna spokesman-turned-whistleblower Wendell Potter writing in his new book, "Deadly Spin," that Moore's 2007 documentary "SiCKO" would inspire politicians to push for universal health care.

From the book, "If Moore's movie attracted big audiences and generated a lot of buzz, it might embolden one or more Democratic candidates to join Representative Dennis Kucinich in endorsing the expansion of Medicare to cover everybody. The increasingly profitable insurance industry would find itself in a war for survival."

Potter telling Democracy Now and Amy Goodman, that his company contacted or contracted, rather, a PR firm to, quote, "defame Michael Moore," to discredit him. To figuratively, quote, "push Michael off a cliff."


AMY GOODMAN: But they were doing an investigation into him personally.

POTTER: Well, absolutely. We knew as much about him probably as he knows about himself.

GOODMAN: About his wife, about his kids.

POTTER: Oh, yes. You know, it's important to know everything that you might be able to use in some kind of a campaign against someone to discredit them professionally and often personally.

GOODMAN: And do you use that?

POTTER: You use it if necessary.


OLBERMANN: Joining me now, as promised, former communications director at Cigna, now senior fellow on health care at the Center for Media and Democracy, and author now of the new book, "Deadly Spin: An Insurance Company Insider Speaks Out on How Corporate PR is Killing Health Care and Deceiving Americans," Wendell Potter.

Good evening, sir.

POTTER: Hi, Keith. How are you?

OLBERMANN: Did you -- did you use the ample research on Michael Moore?

POTTER: Yes, of course. But not -- we didn't have to push him off a cliff.


POTTER: That didn't -- that wasn't necessary. And it wasn't just Cigna. It was the entire industry. And, once again, AHIP played a key role in funding the strategy, the plan to discredit the movie.

OLBERMANN: I should point out you and Mr. Moore have agreed to appear on this program together jointly for the first time next Monday.

POTTER: That's right. That's right.

OLBERMANN: But tonight, Mr. Moore has responded at "Huffington Post" and disagrees with your contention that the smear campaign was successful. He says his movie did, in fact, bring health care reform to the forefront of many minds, particularly in Washington. But he did say, "Their smear campaign was effective and did create the dent they were hoping for -- single-payer and the public option never made it on to real discussion on the floor of Congress."

What do you think of Mr. Moore's assessment of that campaign?

POTTER: Well, it was -- he had a good movie. And I think people who saw it with an open mind knew that he was -- he made a good movie and it told the truth. But he's exactly right. The movie did not have as much of an impact as it might have been had it not been for the smear campaign and the efforts to discredit both Moore and the content of the movie.

OLBERMANN: And did you -- did I read this correctly, that you got stuff from these talking points? From this smear campaign into mainstream representations of Moore at New York Times, perhaps?

POTTER: Oh, absolutely. It was funnel through AHIP into a front group called Healthcare America Now, which was received by mainstream reporters, including The New York Times, as a legitimate organization when it was nothing but a front group set up by APCO Worldwide, a big PR firm that works for both the insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies. It was not anything approaching what it was reporting to be as a grassroots organization. It was a sham group.

OLBERMANN: You mentioned AHIP. We'll talk more about Mr. Moore when you're both here on Monday, but the "Bloomberg" report that AHIP spent $86 million to stunt or stop health care reform, you know, in this nightmare fantasy, chairing up with -- teaming up with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce -- what did they get for their $86 million?

POTTER: They got a Republican Congress, for one thing. And they got a bill that is kind of like the cake. And now they're wanting to eat that cake, too.

The insurance industry played the Obama administration like Stradivarius. And they did the same things with the members of the Tea Party. The Tea Party folks may think that Congress might repeal this legislation, but there ain't that chance because what the insurers like about this is the requirement that we all have to buy their products, and there's no public option to funnel any of that money away from them. They'll be getting new revenue that will be converted into profits for their shareholders.

OLBERMANN: Four House Democrats signed a letter today asking that Republicans like this congressman-elect, Dr. Harris of Maryland, who do not believe that government has a role in health care and are largely in Congress because that's what they ran on, that they should now put their mouths where their money is and opt-out of their government subsidized congressional benefits.

Does the kind of proud hypocrisy of Dr. Harris and others like him surprise you at all?

POTTER: Oh, not at all. What we saw during the campaign was demagoguery at its worst and fearmongering at its worst. And what you see from what Harris said was just the way they really are, what they really feel, and what they really believe.

OLBERMANN: Wendell Potter, the former Cigna executive, the new book is "Deadly Sin," it is an extraordinary document -- great thanks, sir.

POTTER: Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN: And we'll see you and Michael Moore on Monday night.

POTTER: See you Monday. Thank you.


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