WASHINGTON: Senate Democrats have put a new twist on a Clinton-era
communications tactic - the "war room" - to help influence media
coverage in the current patients' rights debate.
But unlike the sweatshop-like atmosphere that characterized earlier war
rooms, where staffers worked overtime in cramped conditions to saturate
the media with their message and smear the opposition, room S-224 of the
Capitol building - dubbed the "Intensive Communications Unit" (ICU) - is
a hi-tech studio equipped for simultaneous TV and Internet appearances,
on-line chats and phone interviews with the senators themselves.
On Tuesday, June 19, its first day of operation, the room quickly became
the epicenter of media coverage for the issue, with senators, reporters
and photographers spilling out into the adjacent hallway.
The room is being supervised by Joe Trahern, director of the Democratic
Technology Communication Committee, and Mark Paterson, a media
strategist for Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD). According to a
Daschle staff member, the room will be active every day "until the
legislation is passed."
Groups such as the Health Benefits Coalition (HBC), represented by
Porter Novelli (PRWeek, June 18), the Health Insurance Association of
America (HIAA) and the American Association of Health Plans (AAHP) are
spending prodigiously to defeat the McCain-Kennedy patients bill of
rights. Their opposition comes largely from a provision that allows
health plan participants to sue their HMOs for up to dollars 5 million.