Humana, Inc., the fine and good corporate citizen that spends millions of its customer’s premium dollars to fight health care reform and a public option rather than using them to pay claims, now wants to use even more premium bucks to pay students willing to sneak on-line at places such as Facebook and Twitter to tout the horrors of any change to America’s superb health care delivery and financing system.
In other words, Humana is trolling college campuses looking for whores willing to accept money to be on-line promoters of an anti-reform policy that’s against the student’s own, best interests – or will be, once they leave school and are on their own. Given the state of the economy, no doubt Humana will be overwhelmed with applications.
On Monday morning, blogger Molly Horan reports that Humana is actively recruiting students to develop and implement viral media strategies designed to undermine support for health care reform among their unsuspecting peers, making the whole thing appear as if it’s coming from just another tea party protester who can use a computer.
Fortunately, the Federal Trade Commission is one step ahead of Humana.
New Disclosure Rules
Beginning Dec. 1, bloggers and TV shows alike will have to disclose if they’re getting cash for mentioning or touting a product or idea. Clearly, Humana’s paid corps of anti-reform student zealots will have to mention they’re getting more than a penny for their thoughts.
As N.E. Marsden wrote Friday in an Op-Ed piece at the Washington Post, “bloggers and, more important, stealth corporate marketers (must) post ‘clear and conspicuous’ disclosures when they receive payment for endorsing online. … The principle is sound: People have a right to know when someone is trying to sell them something.”
While I’m all in favour of the free marketplace of ideas, when the ideas are being slipped to a writer in exchange for cash, I’d like to know who’s footing the bill. This is on a par with George Bush secretly paying Iraqi journalists in 2005 to write glowing articles on the glorious wonders of the American invasion and occupation.
Humana’s strategy gives a new and broader meaning to its slogan, “Guidance when you need it most.” Under the circumstances, it might be more appropriate as “Guidance we pay for when we need you to shill for us.”
Is Everyone A Fraud?
Look, I know times are tough. Jobs scarce. The future scary. Real health care and insurance reform a toss-up. So, having been one once, I can’t really blame journalism students for trying to grab a bit of spare change where they can – although, hopefully, some will have the integrity to see the offer for what it is, and reject the idea of applying out-of-hand.
Still, I can’t help but shudder when I read the job posting:
Humana – Guidance when you need it most
Role: Political Communications Specialist (part-time, limited-term)
Location: Chicago, Ill. or work-at-home
Are you interested in politics and political communication? Have a way with words? Know your way around Facebook, Twitter and the blogosphere? Put your skills to work where politics, communication and public relations intersect. You will:
• Help manage and track a variety of online (“Web 2.0”) channels
• Build a strategic new media and social media presence
• Contribute content for both traditional and new media
• Get a “foot in the door” and gain valuable experience in one of today’s most challenging and fast-paced public policy arenas – health care
This is PR flackery, pure and simple, and of the worst kind. Humana is trying to lure virgin minds onto the rocks of whoredom by singing a siren song promising money and “valuable experience” in exchange for selling out America.
It’s ethical fraud; not illegal but definitely immoral.
Of course, it turns out there’s as much ethical fraud being committed by mainstream and highly respected journalists, as well.
A week ago, the lead story on CBS’ 60 Minutes covered the supposed $60-billion fraud in Medicare payments. I sat watching it dumbfounded, wondering if this might pound a huge nail in the coffin of the public option. Pierre Tristam had the same reaction. But then, he decided to confirm the 60 Minutes reporting.
Tristam is an editorial writer for the Daytona News Journal. He started by calling the show’s producers who referred him to the person at the Justice Dept. who worked with 60 Minutes which, he eventually admitted, used a high figure in the “range” of “possible” and “believed to be” Medicare fraud.
So Tristam kept digging, finally publishing a remarkable Sunday piece titled “Loose With Numbers: Medicare Fraud Report A Fiction.”
Steve Kroft and his producers never bothered to trace their facts to the source for viewers, relying instead on the slob-journalist's cheapest cop-out: Attribution by estimates. Nor did they make the equally important point: Insurance fraud isn't unique to Medicare or government-run programs. If anything, it affects the private sector more. Shame on "60 Minutes" and the Justice Department for throwing around wild numbers. Those are the numbers – the fictions – shaping public opinion across the country and public policy in Washington.
Medicare fraud is a serious problem. But singling it out and exaggerating it beyond credibility won't fix it, although it may help doom any government expansion of health care. In that regard, the 60 Minutes segment did its death-panel best.
I feel as if the whole world has turned into the 1919 Chicago Black Sox, sneaking around behind everyone’s back, putting in the fix, winking and nodding at the rubes, and damning the consequences – as well as the rest of us.
UPDATE – Nov 3, 2009
It’s not just Humana that’s looking for students to be on-line trollers. Israel is also looking for people, according to the website Desert Peace:
“The Foreign Ministry unveiled a new plan this week: Paying talkbackers to post pro-Israel responses on websites worldwide. A total of NIS 600,000 (roughly $150,000) will be earmarked to the establishment of an "Internet warfare" squad.
“The Foreign Ministry intends to hire young people who speak at least one language and who study communication, political science, or law – or alternately, Israelis with military experience gained at units dealing with information analysis.”
And so it goes.
A special h/t to Breandan Healy