CNN Again Neglects Left-Wing Affiliation of Former Health Care 'Player'

Wendell Potter, Center for Media and Democrarcy Senior Fellow | NewsBusters.orgCNN’s Rick Sanchez joined two of his colleagues in omitting the left-wing affiliation of Wendell Potter, a senior fellow at the Center for Media and Democracy. In fact, Sanchez went so far as to deny Potter’s alignment with liberals: “Is he [Potter] some crazy lefty? Is he Ralph Nader? Is he Dennis Kucinich? No. In fact, he’s a former player in the health insurance world.”

Before the CNN anchor made this denial about Potter, he read the senior fellow’s assessment of Senator Max Baucus’s health care “reform” proposal: “Here’s what my next guest thinks of this Baucus bill- quote, ‘It’s hard to imagine how insurance companies could have written legislation,’ he says- ‘that would benefit them more.’ In other words, if the guys who run the insurance companies would have sat down and written legislation- he says- they couldn’t have written it any better.”

Sanchez then made his introduction of his guest: “Who’s my guest? Is he some crazy lefty? Is he Ralph Nader? Is he Dennis Kucinich? No. In fact, he’s a former player in the health insurance world. He used to be a part of it. You ever heard of Cigna? Of course, you’ve heard of Cigna. They’re one of the biggest insurers in the whole world. Wendell Potter is who I’m talking about, and for 15 years he was the company’s chief corporate spokesperson, and he was also an executive with Humana as well.” He didn’t mention Potter’s current position with the Center for Media and Democracy during the interview, though an on-screen graphic did mention it (see above).

The anchor first asked the former spokesman to explain his take on the Baucus bill. He went further that the proposal “really [is] a gift to the insurance industry, and I think it would actually lock in the insurance companies far more in our health care system than they already are locked in. It would ensure their profitability for many years to come.”

Later, Sanchez played the role of devil’s advocate for conservatives and their allies: “A lot of Republicans and a lot of businessmen would say- you know, it’s the American way, though.... profit is the motivation that we use in our economy to make things work. Can you argue with that?” Potter revealed his leftist stance in his answer: “No, I reject that, and it’s the reason I left my job....I have no problem with companies making profits. But...when the profits are so much more important than the health and well-being of our population, I have a big problem with that.”

The CNN anchor also brought up the anti-ObamaCare activists, and brought his liberal viewpoint to the table: “Make me understand why some of these people that we see at these health care reform rallies and town hall meetings, some of whom seem like humble people like my parents...Why are they out there fighting with signs for these multi-rich, multinational companies? I’m not sure I get that. Can you make us understand that?”

Potter sympathized with Sanchez’s lack of understanding:
POTTER: I can’t, and it’s distressing, and I’ve- I’ve seen it happen before. I spoke at a town hall in New Jersey a few weeks ago, and I was explaining some of the tactics that the PR firms the big insurance companies use. And a woman came up after the- the- after my talk- after the rally, and she was carrying a sign that said ‘tort reform now,’ and she was very indignant. She said, ‘No one paid me to be here,’ and I understood what she was saying. And I didn’t say this, but I was thinking, no one had to pay you- you didn’t get any of the money. The money went from the insurance companies, and actually probably some of your money that you paid in premiums was going to the- to the big PR firms that were planning and carrying out the campaigns to influence public opinion in very devious ways. That’s how it works, and it’s very, very successful.

This is at least the fourth time since July 2009 that CNN has either profiled Potter or interviewed him. Two of Sanchez’s colleagues- correspondent Elaine Quijano and Jim Acosta- failed to mention the former spokesman’s current position with the leftist Center for Media and Democracy. The only time it has been mentioned on the network, other than the on-screen graphic during Sanchez’s interview, was when Dr. Sanjay Gupta interviewed Potter in August 2009.

The full transcript of Sanchez’s interview of Potter, which began 34 minutes into the 3 pm Eastern hour of CNN’s Newsroom on Thursday:

Rick Sanchez, CNN Anchor; & Wendell Potter, Center for Media and Democracy Senior Fellow | NewsBusters.orgSANCHEZ: Here’s what my next guest thinks of this Baucus bill- quote, ‘It’s hard to imagine how insurance companies could have written legislation,’ he says- ‘that would benefit them more.’ In other words, if the guys who run the insurance companies would have sat down and written legislation- he says- they couldn’t have written it any better.

All right. Who’s my guest? Is he some crazy lefty? Is he Ralph Nader? Is he Dennis Kucinich? No. In fact, he’s a former player in the health insurance world. He used to be a part of it. You ever heard of Cigna? Of course, you’ve heard of Cigna. They’re one of the biggest insurers in the whole world. Wendell Potter is who I’m talking about, and for 15 years he was the company’s chief corporate spokesperson, and he was also an executive with Humana as well. Mr. Potter, thank you much, sir, for being with us.

WENDELL POTTER: Thank you very much, Rick.

SANCHEZ: You say that the Baucus bill is good for insurers. Would that mean it’s not good for Americans, the rest of us?

POTTER: Oh, absolutely. It is really a gift to the insurance industry, and I think it would actually lock in the insurance companies far more in our health care system than they already are locked in. It would ensure their profitability for many years to come. It would ensure that their business models are successful for years to come. And we, as taxpayers and people who get our private insurance from these companies, would be the losers.

SANCHEZ: I have been sharing with our viewers lately the correlation between how Congress votes and who gives them money, and I found that disproportionately, the people who vote for health care proposals and against things like the public option are getting a lot more money from these companies. Am I- am I off base there, or is there a correlation?

POTTER: There absolutely is a correlation. The work you’ve done is very, very important, and I hope that people understand the importance of it. It’s not a bit surprising that those who voted against the public option are those that got the most money from the industry. In fact, just a few years ago, I sat right next to one of the members of the Finance Committee who was being hosted at a luncheon by one of the big insurance companies I used to work for. It was a fund-raiser for him. And- so, this is not a bit surprising. The money flows and flows a lot to these- and the industry knew that the Senate Finance Committee was- was very important, so that’s why they’ve gotten so much money.

SANCHEZ: You used to be a part of this group, though. You saw- you know their secrets, right?

POTTER: I do.

SANCHEZ: What- and by the way, I’m just thinking, you had a pretty good gig. I mean, great job- you were an executive, you got to fly on a plane- big dough. Why would you turn your back on a great gig like that?

POTTER: You know, after a while, I started paying attention to just what the industry was trying to move us all into- the kinds of plans they were trying to move us into, and I also had a role to play in the campaigns that the industry has conducted over the years to kill health care reform. And I knew that this debate was coming up. I didn’t want to be a part of that effort again, and I- and I started seeing the- the tactics that were being played out, and I- I just decided to speak out to try to make people aware of exactly what they’re doing to kill reform or to shape it like they are in the Senate Finance Committee.

SANCHEZ: A lot of Republicans and a lot of businessmen would say- you know, it’s the American way, though- it’s our system. It sounds bad that these guys have to make profits off of sick people, but- you know, profit is the motivation that we use in our economy to make things work. Can you argue with that?

POTTER: No, I reject that, and it’s the reason I left my job. I mean, a lot of the- the tactics that the insurance industry uses to get what it wants, in my view- the public relations tactics- are unethical, and it finally got to- got to the point that I- I didn’t want to be a part of that anymore. Ethics is important in politics- in governing, in my view, and profits- I- you know, have no problem with companies making profits. But when the- when the profits are so much more important than the health and well-being of our population, I have a big problem with that.

SANCHEZ: How much more? I mean, how much were they profiting, to use your word, and what is a fair profit off of sick people?

POTTER: You know, I don’t know that there’s an answer to what is a fair profit. But since the- since 1993, the insurance companies have been taking more and more of every premium dollar and using it to enhance the CEOs’ compensation, or to enhance shareholder value, and less and less is going to pay claims. It used to be 95 cents of every dollar. Now, it’s down to about 80 cents, and it will continue- and under the Baucus bill, or the Senate Finance bill- without some of the important amendments, the insurance industry will continue to be able to move us into plans that enrich them and shareholders a lot more than they help average Americans.

SANCHEZ: Make me understand why some of these people that we see at these health care reform rallies and town hall meetings, some of whom seem like humble people like my parents- you know, they probably drove up in a Dodge Dart or something- probably don’t have a lot of money, barely are making it by. Why are they out there fighting with signs for these multi-rich, multinational companies? I’m not sure I get that. Can you make us understand that?

POTTER: I can’t, and it’s distressing, and I’ve- I’ve seen it happen before. I spoke at a town hall in New Jersey a few weeks ago, and I was explaining some of the tactics that the PR firms the big insurance companies use. And a woman came up after the- the- after my talk- after the rally, and she was carrying a sign that said ‘tort reform now,’ and she was very indignant. She said, ‘No one paid me to be here,’ and I understood what she was saying. And I didn’t say this, but I was thinking, no one had to pay you- you didn’t get any of the money. The money went from the insurance companies, and actually probably some of your money that you paid in premiums was going to the- to the big PR firms that were planning and carrying out the campaigns to influence public opinion in very devious ways. That’s how it works, and it’s very, very successful.

SANCHEZ: What kind of devious ways? You were in on these meetings. Well, let me ask you, were you a part of these conversations where you would sit down with these executives? I suppose you were in corporate communications where they would say, this is how we’re going to do this- this is how we’re going to convince these people that- that we are the good guys.

POTTER: Oh, absolutely. The executives of these companies are full partners in developing the strategy and- and carrying out the tactics to do this.

SANCHEZ: That’s dishonest?

POTTER: I think it’s- well, I think it’s just a reality, that the- that the CEOs and others are- are at the table- on the one hand, saying that we’re going to be good-faith partners with the President and Congress- but behind the scenes, working and working with their PR firms to do their best to kill it or to shape it. And they do- they funnel a lot of their money. It’s what I call engaging in duplicitous campaigns. On the one hand, you’ve got the charm offensive of them saying that they’re going to come to the table with solutions this year, or this time, and behind the scenes, do all they can to gut it, to make sure they (unintelligible) the public option- if they can, it stays out of legislation. That’s how they operate.

SANCHEZ: We want to extend the invitation to Humana or to Cigna or to any other health care companies who feels- that they would like to rebut any of the things that Mr. Potter says. We’re here. The invitation stands open. And by the way, Mr. Potter, what do you think they would say if they came on tomorrow to rebut what you just said?

POTTER: You know, I think they would say- they would probably use a standard statement that they- they would have drafted- like I would have drafted- and been reviewed by the lawyers and the business people.

SANCHEZ: But you’d be the guy writing this in the past.

POTTER: I would be, (Sanchez laughs) and it will be something that says how much they support health care reform- how much they respect other people’s opinions, but that they disagree with certain opinions, and no one- no one so far has agreed to stay on the- or be on the same program with me to answer my allegations- not allegations, but the facts that I bring up.

SANCHEZ: Mr. Potter, we thank you, sir, for taking time to talk to us- take us through this.

POTTER: Thank you very much.

Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan is a news analyst at Media Research Center