How Corporate America Is Pushing Us All Off a Cliff
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When someone talks about pushing you off a cliff, it's just human nature to be curious about them. Who are these people, you wonder, and why would they want to do such a thing?
That's what I was thinking when corporate whistleblower Wendell Potter revealed that, when "Sicko" was being released in 2007, the health insurance industry's PR firm, APCO Worldwide, discussed their Plan B: "Pushing Michael Moore off a cliff."
But after looking into it, it turns out it's nothing personal! APCO wants to push everyone off a cliff.
APCO was hatched in 1984 as a subsidiary of the Washington, D.C. law firm Arnold & Porter -- best known for its years of representing the giant tobacco conglomerate Philip Morris. APCO set up fake "grassroots" organizations around the country to do the bidding of Big Tobacco. All of a sudden, "normal, everyday, in-no-way-employed-by-Philip Morris Americans" were popping up everywhere. And it turned out they were outraged -- outraged! -- by exactly the things APCO's clients hated (such as, the government telling tobacco companies what to do). In particular, they were "furious" that regular people had the right to sue big corporations...you know, like Philip Morris. (For details, see the 2000 report "The CALA Files" (PDF) by my friends and colleagues Carl Deal and Joanne Doroshow.)
Right about now you may be wondering: how many Americans get pushed off a cliff by Big Tobacco every year? The answer is 443,000 Americans die every year due to smoking. That's a big cliff.
With this success under their belts, APCO created "The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition." TASSC, funded partly by Exxon, had a leading role in a planned campaign by the fossil fuel industry to create doubt about global warming. The problem for Big Oil speaking out against global warming, according to the campaign's own leaked documents, was that the public could see the "vested interest" that oil companies had in opposing environmental laws. APCO's job was to help conceal those oil company interests.
And boy, have they ever succeeded. Polls now show that, as the world gets hotter, Americans are getting less and less worried about it.
How big is this particular cliff? According to the World Health Organization, climate change contributes -- right now -- to the deaths of 150,000 people every year. By 2030 it may be double that. And after that...well, the sky is literally the limit! I don't think it's crazy to say APCO may rack up even bigger numbers here than they have with tobacco.
With this track record, you can see why, when the health insurance industry wanted to come after "Sicko," they went straight to APCO. The "worst case," as their leaked documents say, was that "Sicko evolves into a sustained populist movement." That simply could not be allowed to happen. Something obviously had to be done.
As Wendell Potter explains, APCO ran their standard playbook, setting up something called "Health Care America." Health Care America, according to Potter, "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. It was not anything approaching what it was reporting to be: a 'grassroots organization.' It was a sham group."
Health Care America showed up online in 2007 (the year "Sicko" was released) and disappeared quickly by early 2008. You can still find their website archived here. As you'll see, their "moderated forum" allowed normal, everyday, in-no-way-employed-by-the-insurance-industry Americans to speak out. For instance, here's something Nicole felt very strongly about: