Deadly Spin, is a critically acclaimed book by a former Public Relations(PR) chief for the health insurance industry. His book is a history of how the insurance industry used advertising to convince the American public of a number of things that are not true including that we have the best quality health care system in the world, that a public health system would represent a government takeover and that public health care would cost Americans more money when it actually cost less and improves quality of care.
The value of the book is that it is not just not another person claiming that the insurance companies have misled the public. Rather, Wendell Potter shows you how he in his role as head of public relations for several insurance companies fooled the public. As noted by Paul Kennedy, the tactics used by the insurance industry are the same used by other corporations facing safety or consumer protection regulations. Although Wendell Potter believes the health care reform law was a small positive toward health care reform, he outlines ways the industry will probably try to whittle down key provisions that reduce health care costs and insurance company profits.
An additional aspect of this book is the recounting of the author’s personal experience. The book is also about Mr. Potter’s personal journey and how he came to realize that the work he loved as a PR expert was harming others. People often wonder how others can depersonalize their victims. As Mr. Potter recounts he was able to do this because he didn’t understand or feel connected to the harm he was doing. His personal journey is similar to many others. The act of actually seeing, meeting with and beginning to understand the plight of his victims changed him.
There are many other examples of how our lack of connection or depersonalization of others can cause people to willing harm others. For example, when the news-media began showing people the bodies of American soldiers killed in Viet Nam, public sentiment quickly turned against the war which suggests that directly showing the cruelty of war often leads to people to weight the consequences of war differently. As noted by Glen Greenwald, a reporter for Salon, our current media consistently doesn’t show the victims of injustice, war atrocities, poor quality care or lack of health insurance.
As noted by other PR industry experts including Mr. Potter, these problems might be avoided if PR specialists and the media would strengthen their own ethical guidelines. Perhaps another efficient solution would be truth-in-advertising laws (i.e., regulation of the PR industry) or more education of the public as practiced by The Impartial Review to show people how they can avoid being taken in by PR trickery.
As we’ve noted elsewhere, most PR tricks don’t work if you know the trick. Of course, you also need to have good access to impartial facts. For example, to make good decisions about health care reform one has to know about potential solutions to health care problems such as overly expensive health care or low quality health care. As Mr. Potter spells out in great detail, the American public has been kept in the dark about potential solutions by a willing media and public relations experts that convince people to vote against their own interests. He also documents the heavy handed influence of PR and lobbying on congress.
by Todd Miller
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