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

Morley Safer Speaks To A Lobbyist Some People Love To Hate

He has spoken out against trans-fat, that controversial frying oil under attack by city councils around the country. Berman says it's hardly the poison its enemies claim it is.

"People should not be led around by the nose with bad information," Berman says. "You can make up your own mind as to whether or not margarine is really rat poison as some people have said."

"Oh come on…," Safer remarks.

"But, that's what they've said," Berman replies.

"You just love it when they do that, though, don't you?" Safer asks.

"Well, they're so stupid when they do that because they leave themselves open for criticism," Berman says. "And that's the tension between these communication battles. Somebody exaggerating the hell out of a story and someone like myself coming in and saying, 'What in the world were you thinking.'"

And on the very genuine issue of increasing obesity in this country, Berman's blood boils when people describe it as an "epidemic" or "disease."

"There are people, the morbidly obese who truly do have a problem in this country. I mean, these are the people who when you see them walk down the street, you get the feeling that their butt is another zip code. OK, I understand that. Okay? That's a problem. Those people are at a health risk. But this whole issue that it's a disease, that it's not your fault that you're fat. I mean, if this is a disease, this is going to be the only disease in the country that you could solve by taking long walks and keeping your mouth shut. This is a personal responsibility issue in most cases," Berman says.

"I understand that and a lot of social activists and the government to some extent is trying to get these people to change these bad habits," Safer remarks.

"I have no problem with education. But, education turns into regulation, you know?" Berman says. "As the government gets deeper and deeper into people's lives, they start to dictate more and more. If a bartender can cut you off for visibly being intoxicated, why won't we get to the point where a restaurant operator is not allowed to let you order dessert? I mean, you could get there."

"Oh, it sounds ridiculous, right? 'Well, I can't imagine that.' But, imagine ten steps to get there and all of the sudden it doesn't appear so crazy," Berman adds.

And that is how Dr. Evil frames almost any issue he fights—resist or big nanny will crush you.

He says MADD won't be happy until there is a breathalyzer in every car. Caffeine and salt will disappear, America will be regulated to a police state, one without French fries or foie gras.

"I am not opposed to stopping any of the stuff that's really bad. But, I am opposed to making the problem seem worse than it is. And these groups will make it seem so bad so it justifies their Draconian solutions," Berman says.

But Michael Jacobson says Berman, in his malevolence, is distorting deathly serious issues that will have long term effects on Americans.

"An occasional hot dog is not gonna kill anybody. But, when you're having fettuccini Alfredo one night and the next day you have a double whopper with cheese at Burger King and the next day you go over to Denny's and you have one of their enormous breakfasts, that's what's killing us. Half a million people die every year of heart disease," Jacobson says.

Asked if Berman believes in what he does, Jacobson says, "He's a PR guy. How you can believe anything he says? I think he's in favor of making a lot of money."

"But I think he does hit a nerve in this country when he goes after the nanny state that everything you do is being controlled by Big Mother," Safer remarks.

"Yeah. Isn't it terrible? We have health departments that are trying to clean up restaurants, environmental agencies that are trying to clean the air and the water. It's just terrible," Jacobson says. "I think it's great that government sometimes protects the public's welfare. And he's there protecting industry."

Berman concedes government has a role, but says for the most part the marketplace will self-regulate.

"If the other side thinks that I'm all of these bad things, the one thing that they must think is I'm effective, or else they wouldn't be bitching about it so much," Berman says.

"The fact is you enjoy being the contrarian. You like to be out there," Safer says.

"Well, I don't want to be in a business where it's a me-too thing, where everybody's saying the same thing, and I'm saying, 'Oh by the way, I agree,'" Berman replies. "I'm not afraid to say that the emperor has no clothes."

Berman says he rates his success by one simple measure: is he making people think twice?

As for his critics, Berman says, "I say to them, 'Look, once you get past the name-calling, tell me what's wrong with our statistics. Tell me what's wrong with our science.' Have I said anything that's wrong, or am I just objectionable? And if I'm objectionable, I say, 'Take a deep breath and get over it. I'm not going away.'"
Produced By Deirdre Naphin and Katy Textor