Exclusive: I ‘wined and dined’ NYT and WSJ for favorable coverage, health insurance whistleblower says

Brad Jacobson
Raw Story 

“It was so easy for me to get my way”

A former health insurance insider turned whistleblower says that he was not only surprised at how “easy” it was to manipulate members of the news media over the years, but also reveals that he routinely “wined and dined” reporters from major news outlets – including the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal – in return for favorable coverage.

In his new book Deadly Spin, Wendell Potter describes how his chief function as a senior public relations officer at two of the largest for-profit health insurance companies in the United States – Humana and Cigna – was to “perpetuate myths that had no other purpose but to sustain those companies’ extraordinary high profitability.”

But in an extended interview with Raw Story last week, Potter went further, revealing that he lunched with reporters at major media outlets for years – including journalists at the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal – as well as those from local and regional media, in most cases picking up the tab, which he says directly resulted in positive coverage of the companies he represented.

In an email to Raw Story Sunday night, New York Times spokeswoman Danielle Rhoades Ha responded, “The claims are unsubstantiated and absurd since no names of reporters, examples of stories or other pertinent facts are provided to support these claims.”

Wall Street Journal spokeswoman Ashley Huston declined comment.

In a follow-up call Sunday night, Potter reiterated to Raw Story that he would not name reporters from the Times or the Journal who embraced such relationships with him because he did not want to single them out for embarrassment. He said that he engaged in this practice with many different major media outlets for years, but cited the Times and Journal to underscore that even the most venerable news sources took part.

Potter also said that he did not cite specific articles because it would have the same effect of outing those reporters.

He noted as well that these meetings with reporters were “a process that developed over time” and didn’t just result in influencing a handful of articles, but “many articles over the years,” even including ones which were generously spiked after such interactions.

“Just like lobbyists do for lawmakers”
“What you do, at least if you’re successful — and I was at Cigna for almost 15 years — you work to develop good relationships with reporters who are important to your company and to your industry,” he explained. “You give them special attention.”

“We would go to lunch whenever we could,” continued Potter, who, at the age of twenty-four, was covering the White House, Congress and the Supreme Court for Scripps Howard news service before going into public relations in the late 1970s.

He said that sitting across the table from someone helped to develop a better rapport than if they were always just “a voice at the end of a telephone line.”

“It was important for me I’ve always found to have a personal relationship with someone that’s based on going to lunch,” Potter said. “It was just part of what I did to try to make sure that my company’s point of view was included in their stories.”

He added, though, “I would essentially wine and dine them, just like lobbyists do for lawmakers.”

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