The Making of a Medical Insurance Spin Doctor – RAI with Wendell Potter (3/7)

welcome back to reality asserts itself on the real news network I'm Paul Jay and we're continuing our discussion with wendell potter who was a insurance executive private surance executive and became a whistleblower on the private insurance industry thanks for joining us thank you Paul so we're gonna talk a little bit how you got to be a whistleblower and so tell us a little bit about growing up you know what were the kind of what was the political culture of your household did you believe in the American Dream and the mythology of sort of the flag and patriotism what was the culture and politics of your house well it was it was that I grew up in one of the most Republican parts of the country historically Republican East Tennessee which is I don't think my congressional district has ever been represented by a Democrat the first congressional district of Tennessee we were raised poor my my parents didn't have a lot of money neither of them was able to go to college my dad was a farmer initially and they operated a little country store and that wasn't doing it wasn't doing too well they were losing money so dad took a job at a factory several miles away in Kingsport Tennessee that's where I grew up we were working you know certainly a working-class family and I don't know that I even knew a Democrat for much of my life you're born in 1951 I was born in 1951 I think there's like one month between us all right yeah yeah and I and yes certainly we were we were Patriots my dad had served in World War two he fact I wear my dad's dog tags to this day as a honor my dad he didn't talk a lot about the war but we were certainly patriotic folks and it's interesting I kept my dad's dog tags long time is that right yeah I've got someone yeah why do poor people in Tennessee vote Republican it actually goes back to the Civil War because that part of Tennessee did not want to secede from the union that was there were a lot of Union referred to him as Union sympathizers but there were a lot of folks who joined the Union Army from that part of Tennessee it's very different Tennessee is really it's often referred to as the three states of Tennessee the three grand divisions there's East Tennessee Middle Tennessee in West Tennessee and the East Tennessee has been Republican for for as long as I guess anyone can remember and so it's it's cultural it's your report you're born into it's kind of like being born into the Republican faith to a certain extent but it's changed that faith is dramatically changed from back when you were it has changed the party has changed it's the Republican Party that that I grew up in and that I was for me with it's unrecognizable they don't like the party of the Civil War the party of Lincoln yeah you know that's a whole nother world from the party of you know George Wallace and the other it's true but for a lot of those folks there's well this was Republican right yeah he he was a Democrat Republicans Democrats yeah yeah this is Wallace Democrats yeah yeah yeah but in fact there were a lot of Democrats in middle and West Tennessee that have over the years certainly become Republicans and that's why Tennessee now has a very red state but in these Tennessee they it's that you just kind of born into it like you're born into the Baptist Church for example it's just part of your identity and even though the policies have changed people still feel that they need to be a Republican so I mean at least since this the 50s and 60s certainly during FDR and the 30s one more to thought poor people would have identified more with the FDR Democrats and yeah what came later or certainly in comparison to Republican right in fact my dad and I'm probably here because of FDR's social programs that were labeled as socialism back in the day one was the CCC the the conservative Conservation Corps I think I'm getting that right which was one of the first programs that that Roosevelt implemented to try to get young men at that time trained to do some and to work on public public works and my dad actually went all the way across the country to serve after work in Washington State developing a national park or State Park out there and then later when they came back he was hired by the Tennessee Valley Authority which was another Roosevelt Oh quote-unquote socialists opposed it exactly but he's still in the faith the Republican faith yeah yeah they always my knowledge continued to vote Republican you know a Republican from before I was born but that just shows you how Republican my family family was and and even though my dad was you've got those jobs and and and the training that that he got from those jobs was invaluable they-they-they I don't think I ever saw like I said I'm not even sure I even met a Democrat until I was almost in college so you grow up believing and just patriotism the America I call you call the religion of republicanism but I call the religion Americanism you grow up with that when does it start dawning on you that you start questioning all of those you know in college I was the the first in my family to go to college I began to be exposed to other other people and other and this is during the Vietnam War it was during the Vietnam War it was and I while I was at the University of Tennessee I got involved in the student paper I ultimately was able to serve as president excuse me as editor of the student newspaper was involved in politics a little bit on campus so I got I wouldn't say radicalized but I certainly was exposed to other other thinking and certainly to a lot of people who came on campus during the Vietnam era William Kunstler and some and some some people it was a very famous civil rights law exactly yeah an anti-war law right and exactly so I began to be exposed to other thoughts and other ways of thinking and that began to you know open my my my mind to to see the world a bit differently than I well the deciding thing about that era was the war via war your stance towards that had a lot to do with what you did with the rest of your life yeah and while I was there by the way Richard Nixon was president and right after the bombing of Cambodia Billy Graham was holding a crusade on the University of Tennessee campus at Neyland Stadium the football stadium and he invited Richard Nixon or Nixon invited himself to come to this crusade and I went to that to see what was going on Nixon and Billy Graham on stage and Knoxville Tennessee and there were a lot of students who were protesting that and some of them were friends of mine and got arrested so it was quite quite the time and how did you feel towards it I I became very anti-war myself and as I became editor of the student newspaper I wrote some editorial certainly that were anti-war and did this put you at odds with your parents not necessarily because my dad as we as I noted he had been in the war he and I was only a child he did not want me to have to go to battle to go to war he it was the memories of war were just too vivid for him and he lived through it and I think he would have wanted me to go to Canada rather than really then for me to go to to serve in Vietnam as it happened we know we had that lottery had a lottery back then when the draft changed and and you were subjected to the draft based on your lottery number I had a high lottery number and so I didn't have to serve but I my dad was at least that was one thing that he certainly disagreed with with others in the party about the the value of war when you say you weren't radicalized but you're writing editorials against the Vietnam War in Tennessee I mean that's kind of radical well I guess you would say that maybe maybe so maybe Tennessee is one of the states that gives rise to a lot of soldiers isn't it oh it has that's why it's called the Volunteer State has historically and probably still to this day as and and one reason why it still is today because a lot of soldiers come from poor communities and poor families and that's just but there still is this volunteer spirit the the University of Tennessee is if they're called the volunteers so it's it's historic and and as and it still is that people I think feel that way in a lot of God and country in Tennessee to this day so I'm guessing when you say you weren't radicalized in a sense that you were against the war in Vietnam but that didn't cause you to question some of the underpinnings of America how things are run who owns stuff what the politics is made of or did it not so much not so much although I really wanted to be a journalist and I majored in journalism I just fell in love with the idea of being a journalist and and I was able to get a good job after I graduated from the University at a sizeable metropolitan paper in Memphis so I moved to Memphis and who are you voting Republican or Democrat at this point uh Democrat so you're broke you broke the faith I broke the faith in fact I think the first vote that I caste was for George McGovern he broke the face yeah I did I didn't I did so I about that time I I certainly had had changed my my my political outlook and I think again is partly because of the war and I think there's no denying that but now your father may have not wanted you to go to war but you voting McGovern is passed you know in terms of liberal or progressive values or a how's your father with what's becoming of you you know I I I felt that I needed to we didn't have a lot of political conversations to be honest and I think that was maybe just out of respect for my my parents and their point of view we didn't have arguments at the at the dinner table some years later I actually went to work for a Democratic guy he was running for governor of Tennessee and we did have some conversations then and I think I think actually that might have been the first Democrat that my mom and dad ever voted for it was the guy that I was working for his press secretary some some years ago several years ago so you become a journalist yeah look what kind of journalism what are you looking at I was a general assignment reporter initially I was on the police beat for a little while but I soon began to get assignments to cover local politics in Memphis and cover the City Council in Memphis and and then I got lucky I got noticed and was asked to go it was was assigned to cover state government in Nashville so I was a State House reporter for it for a while covering the governor's office the state legislature and then after a couple of years of doing that I got noticed once again and was given a chance to go to Washington and I was a newspaper reporter in the Scripps Howard newspaper chains Bureau in Washington it was back when Scripps Howard owned a lot of news what year we in this was in the mid 70s I that's when I went to Washington it was during the last part of the Ford administration and the beginning of the Carter Carter Administration the more you see inside the workings of politics yeah what does that do the way you view the world yeah I get very cynical at a very young age and this was back during the time when there was such a thing as bipartisanship in Washington but I got pretty cynical when I actually saw how Congress really works up close and personal to see that and I I frankly decided I didn't want to to grow old as a reporter in in Washington I would go sometimes to the National Press Club I was a member there and I would see these old reporters probably my age now but at the time they same ancient and there were always at the Press Club bar getting loaded after work and I thought that's not that's not the way I want my life to turn out by more cynical you mean you started to see the way money controlled the politics I did I did and I saw the reporters becoming cynical observing it and just making them cynics yeah I always thought it was very similar I made a movie once about professional wrestling which is that's called Hitman Hart wrestling with shadows it became fairly well-known but you would have the theater of wrestling and then the real business behind the scenes and there's a whole media and press that covers the theater we used to as if it was real right I always thought that's how a lot of the press corps covers Washington oh it is to this day and it's one of the reasons I i I've written the books that I have written because of the the insufficient quality of journalism out of Washington and almost all the reporting that you see in my view is very superficial it's almost as if they're sports reporters covering politics as if it were a sporting event it's exactly how it's done and there's very little reporting about policy issues and when I was a reporter there that was back before money was as influential as it is now and there were far far fewer lobbyists in Washington during that time but they certainly run the town now so you get cynical about the whole system mm-hm and that cynicism I guess for a lot of people leads one to the conclusion well you might as well make some money well that's exactly what I all t'me decided to do and my way out of journalism at that time my first venture into the world of politics if you will and then later business was to serve as a press secretary to a guy who's running for governor I he lost he won the Democratic nomination but he lost the general election and he asked me to stay on to work with him he turned out he was from Knoxville and Knoxville he was leading a group of local folks who were trying to bring a World's Fair to Knoxville Tennessee and I thought that was kind of silly but he asked me if I'd stay on and and and help him pull that off and I did and we did Knoxville had a World's Fair in 1982 and I went from there to Atlanta and was a partner in a small PR firm and and then from there into health care so I was making more money certainly more money than then most journalists make and by the time that I got recruited to one of the big health insurance companies I thought I had it made hmm so what do you do with this kind of just being who had gotten somewhat radicalized and sort of progressive and you saw you know the the role of money and corruption in politics and such what do you do with that person as you get more and more in the corporate world and start what to embody I guess the values of your working I tried to bury that that that guy from you know my earlier years I was pretty happy making more money and getting promotions and and having jobs with important-sounding important-sounding titles and it's very hard to walk away from that it really is but I I was pretty impressed with myself and and the money bought a nice house and a couple cars and and we were able to establish a lifestyle that a lot of people would anything certainly one that I couldn't imagine when I was growing up in East Tennessee I was making more money probably in a year that my dad would make in ten years if not more yeah you were making what's something close to in today's dollars would have been close to $500,000 a year yeah when you left right exactly well have a story of being so successful and making a lot of money and leaving it blowing it all off it's going to be the subject of our next segment so please join us for the next segment of reality asserts itself with wendell potter on the real news network you


  1. I remember my mom had that lottery list on my fridge when I was a little girl, the youngest of seven I didn’t understand the significance of the list for my mom and dad and older brother. My brother’s number never came up.

  2. youtube algorithm makes it hard to find the rest of this video segments. WTF!!!

  3. This comment is now almost two days late, it now being 1:13 a.m. on Sunday, May 12th, but this 3rd part of the 7-part series is very good. I appreciated parts 1 and 2 so hope the rest will also be good. I don't know what to say to Wendell, but " Thank you " certainly comes to mind. So far, good! I appreciate the frank talk. And keep up the good work TRNN. You've been doing it for many years, evidently anyway, for I hadn't checked for plenty of years and only find the channel to be as good as I had previously known it to be. That's quite steadfast.

  4. Great segment RNN! I am also proud to say I cast my first-ever vote for Sen George McGovern and owned a "Lick Dick in '72" campaign button.

  5. Shitty medicine has no political affiliation.

  6. Interesting learn abput you life. _ preaching to the chior here hopfully its not just about book sales but getting the word out to the Republican in Tennessee letters to editors about the workings of insurance companies and Republicans lobbist a simple but to the point artical so people can understand

  7. @therealnews, where the fuck are the other parts

  8. why is 3/7 the only part I can find?

  9. Great series; Potter is terrific. Jay, too, but he's getting increasingly bipolar about his facial hair. On, off, on, off… 🙂 More seriously, Potter is an impressive guy; that's real ethics in action: he sold out, came to, admits and owns it without being dramatic about it. Great.

  10. Interesting. Looking forward to the next one.
    We need more insider-whistleblowers.

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