TO HIS CRITICS, HE'S WORSE THAN THE FILM VILLAIN HE'S NAMED FOR, BUT THIS DR. EVIL WON'T GO AWAY WHEN THE LIGHTS COME UP -- "60 MINUTES" SUNDAY
Unlike the villain in the Austin Powers spy-spoof films, this Dr. Evil -- a.k.a. Washington lobbyist Rick Berman -- does not disappear when movie credits roll. He's a constant gadfly to other lobbyists and do-gooders who label him evil for taking money from corporations to fight causes like animal rights, healthy food, labor unions, even Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Berman is merely taking the other side in issues, he tells Morley Safer, and to his critics he says, "Get over it." Berman appears in a 60 MINUTES report to be broadcast Sunday, April 8 (7:00-8:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network.
Berman is criticized for his commercials and websites that he says point out the exaggerations of groups telling Americans what not to eat, drink or wear. The attacks are personal, he says. "I don't get attacked for my information, I get attacked personally," says Berman, who has a message for his critics: "Have I said anything that's wrong or am I just objectionable? And if I am objectionable, I say, 'Take a deep breath and get over it. I am not going away,'" Berman tells Safer.
Through non-profit educational entities that corporations contribute to, Berman creates commercials that attack groups whose messages can harm the interests of those corporations. For example, one commercial, under the Center for Consumer Freedom label, shows a child whose ice cream is taken away and adults whose food and drink are likewise snatched. "Everywhere you turn, someone is telling us what we can't eat...Find out who's driving the food police," explains the voiceover.
Critics call him a hired gun, but Berman says he's not defending corporate America, just educating Americans with the paying support of companies. "I go out to people and I say, 'If you believe in what I believe, will you help fund it?' Now I don't know if that's a hired gun or not....I do get paid for educating people," he says. "If that's my biggest crime, I stand accused." Berman also says what he does is a passion rather than a means of support. "I was making a lot of money before I ever started this firm. I do it because I believe in it...it's the right thing to do."
"He's a PR guy. How can you believe anything he says?" remarks Dr. Michael Jacobsen, head of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. "I think he's in favor of making a lot of money," continues Jacobsen, "a one-man goon-squad for any company that's willing to hire him. Berman is against every single measure, no matter how sensible. He'd have no restrictions on tobacco advertising, junk foods galore in the schools, no minimum wage. He wants to leave corporate America unfettered on any regulations that protect the public's health," says Jacobsen.
What's more, critics charge, the corporations that hire him also hide behind him. That's what he's there for, says Berman. "The businesses themselves don't find it convenient to take on causes that might seem politically incorrect," says Berman, "and I am not afraid to do that."
To watch one of Berman's controversial ads described in this release, go to: http://www.cbsnews.com/sections/i_video/main500251.shtml?id=2651504n