Watch out for "a scruffy guy in a baseball cap"

Pharmaceutical companies warn their employees about Michael Moore's next film project, tentatively titled "Sicko."

Published December 23, 2004 2:57PM (EST)

He doesn't do undercover. And he is not someone who easily melts into the background. But when an industry thinks it is about to become the latest target of filmmaker Michael Moore, precautions have to be taken.

According to the Los Angeles Times, at least six of America's largest pharmaceutical firms have issued internal notices to their workforces warning them to be on the lookout for "a scruffy guy in a baseball cap" who asks too many questions. Rotund and amiable he may seem, but this could be Moore, digging for dirt for his new movie, provisionally titled "Sicko."

Having watched the Bush administration and the gun lobby come a cropper in Moore's last two works, the pharma giants are not taking any risks. "We ran a story in our online newspaper saying Moore is embarking on a documentary -- and if you see a scruffy guy in a baseball cap, you'll know who it is," Stephen Lederer, a spokesman for Pfizer Global Research and Development, told the Los Angeles Times.

Five other big companies have told employees that any approach by Moore should be rebuffed and referred to the company's corporate communications department. "Moore's past work has been marked by negativity, so we can only assume it won't be a fair and balanced portrayal," said Rachel Bloom, executive director of corporate communications at AstraZeneca, based in Delaware. "His movies resemble docudramas more than documentaries."

The U.S. pharmaceutical industry has been criticized in recent months for being undercut by cheaper Canadian equivalents. Some well-known drugs have been taken off the market after they were shown to have serious side effects.

"We have an image problem -- not only with Michael Moore, but with the general public," said M.J. Fingland, senior director of communications for the lobbying group Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America. Rumors are already swirling within an industry that is becoming paranoid about Moore's moviemaking tactics. Moore, it is said, has hired actors to portray pharmaceutical salesmen who offer gifts to doctors who promote their products.

There is also word that he has offered physicians $50,000 apiece to install secret cameras in their offices in an effort to document alleged corruption. Bloom said Moore had been spotted at all six of her business centers nationwide. "Michael Moore is becoming an urban legend."

By Gary Younge

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