PR Watch: Conservative front group targets Altmire, health care reform | Slag Heap
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Thursday, March 11, 2010

PR Watch: Conservative front group targets Altmire, health care reform

Posted By on Thu, Mar 11, 2010 at 9:58 PM

It's not easy being Congressman Jason Altmire. Lefties hate him for not supporting Democratic healthcare reform proposals. Meanwhile, he's now being targeted in an ad that is trying to kill off the reforms entirely.

The ad, which is highly similar to this one, uses lots of storm imagery -- hurricane satellite photos, lightning strikes -- to warn that "Americans are in the middle of economic storm. And an even bigger crisis is brewing." If Congress passes healthcare reform, it informs us, we'll be sunk in trillions of dollars of debt, and economic catastrophe will befall us all. Also, apparently, we will be beset by massive hurricanes. The ad ends by urging viewers to call up Altmire and share their views with him.

The ads are sponsored by the Committee to Rethink Reform, which bills itself as a project of the Employment Policies Institute (EPI). And who is EPI? Why, they are "a non-profit, non-partisan research organization dedicated to studying public policy issues surrounding employment economics. EPI sponsors non-partisan research by independent economists at major universities around the country."

As we've seen before, anytime a think tank sounds this innocuous, you know they're up to something. And sure enough, EPI turns out to be a front group created by Richard Berman.

Berman is occasionally referred to as "Dr. Evil" by his opponents. He's sometimes said to be the real-life equivalent of Nick Naylor, the affable-if-morally-vacuous spinmeister anti-hero of Christopher Buckley's book Thank You For Smoking. Just to give you an idea, USA Today has reported that in the 1990s, Berman "used Philip Morris money to fight the move to put no-smoking sections in restaurants."

Berman specializes in creating "non-partisan" think tanks, and other such "astroturf" action groups that are designed to mimic grassroots movements. Those allow his clients to maintain an arm's length distance from their own propaganda. Berman isn't obliged to reveal his client list, so it isn't always clear whose interests he's acting in. But you can make some pretty educated guesses. Some of Berman's opponents have created a Web site dedicated to identifying these groups, which have such delicious names as "PETA Kills Animals." 

It probably goes without saying that the "Rethink Reform" spot makes some pretty debatable arguments. For example, it suggests that most Americans oppose healthcare reform. Polling indeed shows that the issue is divisive. But it also suggests that many Americans are wary of current reform proposals because they don't think the proposals go far enough, or because they simply have tuned out the discussion.

The ad also warns that, in a time of economic crisis when deficits are already mounting, healthcare reform would be an economic "disaster." But the Congressional Budget Office has found that the Senate's healthcare reform proposal would actually reduce deficits that would be incurred if Congress did nothing.

Of course, there's plenty of debate about those findings. But we ought to be able to agree on at least one thing: A guy who opposed non-smoking sections in restaurants may not be the best source of information on our health.

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