Can you imagine America looking to Jerry Lewis to determine future U.S. foreign policy? Or waiting with bated breath to hear Jay Leno's take on immigration legislation?
Everyone knows that satirists and comedians aren't policy experts; you look to them for laughs, not viable solutions to the world's problems. And yet no one in the healthcare sector was laughing with the impending release of Michael Moore's Sicko.
Now, the issue of repairing our healthcare system is clearly urgent and pressing. Outside of Iraq, healthcare is the number one issue of concern for Americans. Still, the distinction between those who can describe a problem and those who can offer solutions needs to be made and remembered. Jerry Lewis, Jay Leno and Michael Moore are all skilled at putting a spotlight on our foibles and shortcomings, but let's think twice before we confuse humor with policy.
In many ways, Moore is like a cranky relative sitting next to you at Thanksgiving, who has lots of opinions and isn't shy about bending your ear. Moore's goal, like Uncle Irv's, is to crank you up, and unfortunately the healthcare sector took his bait.
There is very little information that Moore brings up in Sicko that was not already readily apparent. Everyone knows that there is a healthcare crisis, that tens of millions are uninsured and that those who are insured sometimes do not have adequate coverage for all their needs. In short, everyone knows what needs to be repaired. The question is how to fix these problems.
And it is here that the healthcare industry and some elected officials made their biggest public relations mistake: they took Moore's entertainment seriously. Unintentionally, they buttressed Sicko's credibility by responding to the film as if Moore is a legitimate expert on the healthcare system rather than an entertainer with a penchant for politics. By responding to Moore as if his arguments had merit, the healthcare sector raised him from an amusing and professional gadfly to someone worth listening to. He simply doesn't deserve that much respect for his policy platform.
By expending so much energy refuting Moore and painstakingly pointing out the shortcomings of the healthcare systems in Cuba, Canada, or France, the US healthcare industry has given Moore a career boost.
The public is not oblivious: they are aware that Moore's film is provoking a response in the healthcare sector. If healthcare experts and the industry take Moore seriously, so does the public. And that lets Moore win: he gets attention.
What the industry needs to recognize is that they aren't compelled to respond in the same vein. Show that you do understand the difference between policy proposals and entertainment by congratulating Moore on another successful film that will leave his audience rolling in their seats, but feel free to reject his prescription for a "single payer system." There are times when a strong, point-by-point rebuttal is necessary but that will backfire here. In this case, less is more.
Instead, buy your movie ticket, purchase some popcorn and enjoy. Satire is not policy. Feel free to laugh.
Jeffrey M. Sandman and Fred Bratman are executives with Hyde Park Communications. Sandman is the firm CEO and Bratman, a regular guest columnist for PRWeek, is the firm's president.