Sunday, 28 November 2010

Sorry seems to be the hardest word

The life of a political polemicist is not a happy one. Despite devoting your life to the issues you believe in, you can end up spending most of your time battling those who refuse to acknowledge your point of view and refuting their ill-founded allegations.

Michael Moore has had over 20 years to get used to that, but even so, it can't get any easier. So he must be thankful for healthcare industry whistle-blower Wendell Potter's change of heart recently.

Not only does Wendell's incredible volte-face legitimise the points that Moore rasied in his documentary Sicko, it has a knock-on effect on all the other contrary voices which screeched in union whenever the Flint, Michigan native released a movie.

Released in 2007, Sicko attempted to shine a light on the dubious practices of American healthcare companies and the fact that their profitability is based on the denial of treatment. Understandably, the industry didn't take too kindly to Moore taking their temperature with a microphone-sized rectal thermometer.

So they did what any fiscally robust but morally bankrupt business would do - they set out to discredit and smear the film-maker. At the time, Wendell Cooper was the Head of Corporate Communications at CIGNA Healthcare, and was part of the anti-publicity machine built to take the scruffy agitator down.

Part of the industry's response was to establish a bogus organisation called Healthcare America, with the sole purpose of  "reframing the debate". Rather than actually addressing the points Moore was making them and opening up the dialogue, this meant planting new conversational threads into the mouths of willing shills.

As a consequence, millions of Americans (minus the 45,000 who die each year due to inadequate healthcare coverage) were forced into a discussion about 'death panels' and the terrifying notion of the Government getting to decide who lives and dies. And despite the fact that Potter now freely admits that Moore's film was pretty much spot-on, the PR initiative kept repeating the assertion that Michael Moore "played fast and loose with the facts".

Thankfully, Potter has finally seen sense (or at least witnessed the black, shrivelled root where his soul used to be) and written a shocking expose of the industry called 'Deadly Spin' where he attempts to atone for the role he played. Even more noble, is the fact that he faced up to Michael Moore on Keith Olbermann's show and offered the film-maker a full apology.

Moore even managed to be gracious in accepting Potter's words of contrition. Although he couldn't quite resist sticking the scalpel in (and twisting it around) by asking the whistle-blower how he had managed to look his children in the face whilst working for CIGNA.

Maybe it's all too little too late - the healthcare issue has evolved in the three years since Sicko's release. And the documentary is unlikely to enjoy a resurgence of popularity thanks to this belated apology. But there's still a glimmer of hope here. The level of political discourse in the US may be in a pretty sorry state, but at least there are people still attempting to resuscitate it.

No comments:

Post a Comment