Meet Rick Berman, A.K.A. "Dr. Evil"

Morley Safer Speaks To A Lobbyist Some People Love To Hate

But the "point" is not made by Berman and Company. He has come up with a clever system of non-profit educational entities. Companies can make charitable donations to these groups, which have names like Center for Consumer Freedom and Center for Union Facts. They are neutral sounding but "educating," with a particular point of view, all perfectly legal.

Berman and his staff of young crusaders attack the nanny culture by combing through watchdog and government reports, seeking inconsistencies, overstatements, seizing on the one fact here or there that might discredit the research. And Berman says he's rarely disappointed.

He blasts MADD for no longer being run by mothers, and PETA, who he accused of killing animals in its care. And he questions the danger of mercury in tuna; he says it's massively over-hyped.

Web sites devoted to nanny bashing and ads showing children being exploited by union bosses are all in a day's work for Rick Berman.

In the end, Berman says it's all about "shooting the messenger."

"Shooting the messenger means getting people to understand that this messenger is not as credible as their name would suggest," Berman says.

While those tactics have made him rich and powerful, they have also made him mightily unpopular. Even in a mudslinging city like Washington, it's difficult to find someone who provokes as much venom as Rick Berman.

"He's a one-man goon squad for any company that's willing to hire him," says Dr. Michael Jacobson, who heads the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a healthy food advocacy group. Jacobson has been the point man in the "food wars" for decades.

Jacobson's declaration of war on obesity has often brought him face to face with "Dr. Evil."

"Berman is against every single measure, no matter how sensible. He'd have no restrictions on tobacco advertising, junk foods galore in schools. No minimum wage," Jacobson tells Safer. "He wants to leave corporate America unfettered of any regulations that protect the public's health."

Jacobson says corporate America simply hires Berman to say the nasty things they wouldn't dare say themselves.

"He's a hit man. He's dishonest, deceptive, he makes things up," Jacobson says. "He does things that the companies can't do or say themselves, badmouthing just about anybody who says anything critical of industry."

Who are the companies that support Berman?

"The food industry, the beverage industry, alcoholic beverage industry, the restaurant industry's a major supporter. He doesn't disclose the names of his funders," Jacobson says.

But a partial list of Berman's clients was leaked to the media some years back. Names included Coca-Cola, Tyson Chicken, Outback Steakhouse and Wendy's.

Berman will not confirm or deny. "You're not going to get a lot of companies who want to say that I'm funding Rick Berman to go after you. They're just not going to do it," he says.

Asked if these companies are embarrassed about being associated with him, Berman says, "I think it all comes down to not wanting to be targeted. I mean, I get attacked. But, I don't get attacked for my information. I get attacked personally."

And though his business rakes in millions, Berman says it's not about the cash. He says it's a calling.

"I didn't need to be doing this. I'm doing this because it's a passion of mind. I believe in what I'm doing," Berman tells Safer.

"But, you're also doing it for the money. C'mon, admit it," Safer says.

"I was making a lot of money before I ever started this firm. I do it because I believe in it. I do it because it's the right thing to do," Berman replies.

Berman says his methods are fair, and that he is only responding to his opponents, who consistently use scare tactics.