Rick Berman takes a certain pride, even joy, in the nickname "Dr. Evil." But the people who use it see nothing funny about it—they mean it.
His real name is Rick Berman, a Washington lobbyist and arch-enemy of other lobbyists and do-gooders who would have government control—and even ban-a myriad of products they claim are killing us, products like caffeine, salt, fast food and the oil they fry it in. He's against Mothers Against Drunk Driving, animal rights activists, food watchdog groups and unions of every kind.
As correspondent Morley Safer reports, Berman believes we are fast becoming a nation of passive children ruled by the iron thumb of self-appointed "nannies" and he gets paid good money to keep all those "Mary Poppinses" at bay. And they have reserved a special place in hell for him.
"Let me just take you through some of the things your critics have said about you. Sleazy, greedy, outrageous, deceptive, ineffective except when it comes to making money for yourself, corporate lackey who is one of the scariest people in America," Safer remarks.
"You know, I grew up in the Bronx. Name-calling is not the worst thing that I've been subjected to," Berman replies.
Rick Berman is lawyer and a lobbyist, which some might say is bad enough, but he would say lawyer and lobbyist for personal freedom.
"If the government is truly interested in my health and welfare, I'm appreciative of it. But, I think I can take care of myself," Berman tells Safer.
Berman claims that we are quickly becoming a "nanny state," an overregulated society with ever-declining freedom of choice from how much we earn, to when we may drive, to what we eat.
He has particular contempt for so-called "food cops" who claim to know what's best for us.
"They create this Chicken Little mentality that the sky is falling over everything," Berman says. "You know, the latest study says this, the latest study says that. And they drive the government to satisfy that artificial public need."
Berman blames activist, safety and watchdog groups—"do-gooders run amok" he calls them—for trying to scare America into submission. He points to those endless reports, often contradictory, which offer us a dizzying array of fearful news about everyday food and drink that might just kill you: like tuna fish, chicken, diet soda, salt, and that demon, trans-fats.
"I don't think that the other side should be allowed to talk and the response be intimidated into submission or silence. And so I'm the other side," Berman says.
The other side as in big business, mainly the food, beverage and restaurant business, which have a vested interest in encouraging people to continue to eat, drink and be merry to their heart's delight.
Berman's the booze and food industry's 6'4", 64-year-old weapon of mass destruction. They hire him to front for them in the "food wars."
"The businesses themselves don't find it convenient to take on causes that might seem politically incorrect, and I'm not afraid to do that," Berman says.
Asked if has become a major tool for corporate America, Berman says, "My mission is not to defend corporate America."
"You're a hired gun," Safer remarks.
"Well, I go out to people and I say, 'Look, 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. But, the point is, yes, I do get paid for educating people. If that's my biggest crime, I stand accused," Berman says.
And it's not just the "food police" Berman goes after: it's anyone who seeks to limit or regulate our way of life, like animal rights activists, trial lawyers, and his current favorite, union leaders.
And Berman uses ads to drive home the message.
"You know what I love? Paying union dues, just so I can keep my job," one TV ad says. "I really like how the union discriminates against minorities!" "Nothing makes me feel better than knowing that I'm supporting their fat-cat lifestyles. Find out the facts about union officials at unionfacts.com" "Thanks, union bosses!"
"There's no sense in putting out a 17 page scientific report that nobody will read. So, I put out a 30 second commercial that makes the point," Berman explains.