You might be interested in what former Cigna vice-president Wendell Potter had to say about this film:
AMY GOODMAN: I want to stick with the media and the power of the media. You were the point person on Michael Moore’s film Sicko.
WENDELL POTTER: I was.
AMY GOODMAN: On refuting it.
WENDELL POTTER: I was.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about what happened and how you organized against his film, and then how you feel about that today, or even how you felt about it at the time.
WENDELL POTTER: Well, frankly, I was very conflicted, because when I saw the movie for the first time, I really felt that—well, I knew it was an honest film. The information that was contained in the film, it truly was a documentary, and certainly a documentary with a point of view, but that’s understandable.
But the industry knew, from the moment that we heard that Michael Moore was going to be doing a film, a documentary, on the health insurance industry, that—or not just the health insurance industry, but the whole American healthcare system, that undoubtedly the American insurance system would not fare too well. And so, over the course of many months leading up to the premier of the movie, the industry was very active in trying to figure out how to blunt the impact of the movie when it did premier and was very careful to avoid any memos being written that had Michael Moore’s name or Sicko in the subject line, because there was this great fear that it would be leaked to Michael Moore, and he would use it as part of his publicity campaign. Apparently, such a memo was leaked from one of the pharmaceutical companies, and he used it to great advantage. So all of the memos would have the subject line “Hollywood,” and all the conversations would be on very secretive conference calls.
And then, when the movie was about to premier, the industry—it was premiered, as you may remember, in Cannes at the film festival in 2007, and the industry, through some connections that it had in the entertainment business, was able to fly someone to France to get a ticket and to sit in the theater during the first screening of the movie. And then, after that, this person got on the phone for a much-anticipated conference call. I’m sure there were dozens of us who were on the conference call waiting to hear the first reports about Sicko. And that was when we all knew which companies were mentioned in the movie and then what cases were being mentioned. And that gave the companies some time to prepare, to develop talking points to counteract the ultimate questions, the inevitable questions that would be asked when the movie was beginning to premier in the United States.
AMY GOODMAN: And what were the buzzwords, the talking points, that you developed that you felt were most important to refute what he did? And then, your thoughts as the media repeated them?
WENDELL POTTER: Well, two things. One is very consistent with what they’re doing now, the industry is doing now, to try to defeat or shape healthcare reform legislation to its benefit, and also consistent with what it did in ’93 and ’94 to kill the Clinton plan. Number one, with regards to Michael Moore himself, they knew that he could be a polarizing figure and that conservatives don’t like him, so they—the industry—part of the industry strategy was to recruit conservative pundits and editorial writers and members of Congress who were conservative and aligned with the industry’s agenda and point of view. And we would do media training with all of our executives, because there was the expectation that Moore would do ambush interviews, as he has done in some of his previous films. That didn’t happen, but if they had, we had our executives well trained with how to handle such an interview. We referred to him—we were prepared to refer to him in any interviews we did have as Michael Moore the movie maker, the entertainer, in an effort to diminish his importance as a documentary maker, to try to cast him as part of the Hollywood establishment and someone who was really making a fantasy, rather than a documentary. So that was part of the strategy.
The other was to use the subject of what he was doing, which was—you know, as you may recall, he went to many different countries that have universal care, including Canada, the United Kingdom, France, and even Cuba, and some other places, to show how people can get care and have much better access to care than in the United States. The industry saw this certainly as a threat. They didn’t like seeing those countries’ healthcare systems depicted in a positive light, because they’d been fighting that kind of a system for many years. So the talking points were to demean a single-payer system or a government-run system. Government-run—whenever you hear someone who’s allied with the industry talk about a government-run system, they’ll use the term pejoratively, and they’ll say that it will put us on the slippery slope toward socialism, or it will put a government bureaucrat between you and your doctor. And you’re seeing that now in some of the ads that are running by—I think Conservatives for Patients’ Rights is one group that’s got ads running like that right now. So it was an effort to take advantage, actually, of the movie and to start the campaign against government-run healthcare once again.