Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Citizens' Ministry of Truth

"Like an answer, the three slogans on the white face of the Ministry of Truth came back to him:
-- George Orwell, "1984"
Bob Ricker, the executive director of the state-owned Citizens Property Insurance Corp., Wednesday mounted an op-ed defense against last week's editorial in the Pensacola News Journal.

The result is not pretty. Either Ricker is an idiot or he supposes that we are idiots. In either event, what he's written qualifies only as 'newspeak' worthy of George Orwell's 'Big Brother.'

Ricker titles his piece Citizens Will Pay Only What Is Owed. Like the headline, the body of the article is pure agitprop -- chock-full of dissembling half-truths, outright lies, and calumnies.

Plenty of letters-to-the-editor will be flooding the News Journal in reply to Ricker's arguments, I have no doubt. So, what I'd like to do here is simply call attention to the four blunt techniques Ricker uses to convert what could have been a normal article, giving the public needed information, into a despicable piece of propaganda serving only the insular bureaucratic interests of Citizens Property Insurance itself.

What do I mean by propaganda? As the on-line encyclopedia Wikipedia explains:
"Propaganda is a specific type of message... aimed at serving an agenda. * * * What separates propaganda from "normal" communication is in the subtle, often insidious, ways that the message attempts to shape opinion. For example, propaganda is often presented in a way that attempts to deliberately evoke a strong emotion, especially by suggesting non-logical... relationships between concepts."[emphasis added]

Diverting Attention

As propagandists often do, Ricker begins by acknowledging there is a problem but then he swiftly tries to divert our attention to a new and unrelated subject:
'Citizens readily admits to delays and problems with customer service and has taken steps, both immediate and for the future, to better serve its policyholders. However, chief among concerns in the Panhandle is a legal dispute involving flood and wind damages.'
"Chief among concerns in the Panhandle," eh? Note the sly use of the indefinite reflexive pronoun. 'Concerns' are held by people, not places or things. So who, exactly, in "the Panhandle" has this "chief" "concern"? Is it someone -- maybe everyone -- in "the Panhandle"? Or, is it Ricker himself?

Distorting the Facts

He doesn't say because, if he did, the deceitfulness of his next statement would be exposed immediately:
This area was subject to a massive storm surge, causing widespread flooding and creating complex insurance claims.'
Storm surge? Really? But what about the hurricane force winds?

As "everyone" in "the Panhandle" really does know, "this area" was subjected to both a massive windstorm and, in select coastal zones, a storm surge. Sustained winds reached 145 m.p.h. and raged for hours, something Ricker totally fails to mention. I wonder why.

Distorting the Opposing Position

Ricker continues:
"Flood damage is covered by the federal government under a separate insurance policy and is not covered by Citizens or private insurance. However, some claimants are interpreting a recent court ruling to mean that if a home is totaled, no matter the cause, insurance companies owe policy limits." [emphasis added]
There you have the nub of Ricker's argument: "some" insured claimants, he is stating as if it were fact, have filed windstorm claims "no matter the cause."

That blatant untruth comes perilously close to libel, it seems to me. Indeed, it may over-step the line. Ricker and the corporation he heads, for now, are free to claim in court pleadings that a customer does not have a valid claim under the terms of the customer's property insurance contract. But to publish in a public newspaper a statement that defames those customers by claiming they filed windstorm claims "no matter the cause" is recklessly irresponsible, defamatory, and beyond bad faith.

Misleading in the same way is Ricker's implication that customers are asking Citizens to begin "covering flood damage" from Hurricane Ivan. As he surely knows, all of the dozen or more lawsuits filed against Citizens, to date, do not allege that the company is responsible for water surge damage. Rather, they allege that their property suffered wind damage in addition to water damage and under local ordinances, the various contributing factors require that the insured property be torn down and re-built to code.

Under Florida's long-standing Value Policy Law statute, it's this combination of causes -- casualty loss plus local ordinances -- that triggers the wind carrier's obligation to pay limits on the wind policy in accordance with the premiums customers have been charged. As the Mierzwa court noted, if a wind carrier believes part of the burden should be borne by another property insurer, the windstorm carrier is free to demand contribution from that other insurance company.

Lies of Omission

Instead of propagandizing, Ricker would have done the public and the agency he heads a far better service by explaining why all windstorm claims for policy limits are being routed by Citizens Property to the Black Hole of Bill Ellis' desk for special adverse treatment. Or, why every windstorm claimant at Citizens who asks for policy limits is being sent a standard cookie-cutter letter telling them, in effect, to wait three or four years for "a final determination from the courts regarding its obligations" to Mr. and Mrs. Robert Perkins before "we will contact you... ."

Does Citizens' insurance policy language specify that it can compel customers to wait on the outcome of other lawsuits Citizens may choose to file against other persons to 'test'previous court rulings about its legal obligations? I very much doubt it.

I also doubt that such conduct by Citizens could be considered a "good faith" insurance company practice. On Ricker's watch, Citizens already has been exposed as thoroughly incompetent at its core duties of servicing insurance polciies. Now, through Ricker's op-ed piece, the head of the company is effectively unmasked as a disreputable dissimulator with a personal disdain for the truth, the company's customers, and the Florida public at large.


Welcome to Bob Ricker's Ministry of Truth.


Anonymous said...

Nice writing. How about submitting it to the News J. or one of the other papers.

Anonymous said...

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