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How NOT to handle conflict of interest disclosure

Gary Schwitzer reacts to the Furcht outing.

He was a member of the conflict of interest task force.

December 29, 2008 How NOT to handle conflict of interest disclosure

The Star Tribune did a fine job digging, finding and disclosing that Dean Deborah Powell of the University of Minnesota medical school "appointed as cochair of the task force (on med school conflict of interest policy) a man who'd just come off three years of sanctions for his own serious conflict-of-interest violations involving a private company he owned." As a Strib editorial correctly stated: "Had it not been for the newspaper story, made possible by documents obtained through the state's open records laws, neither the public nor some members of the panel would have known of Leo Furcht's past."

Blogger Bill Gleason posted the Strib article and has commented on the events.

Blogger Margaret Soltan "proposes we call this the Hannibal Lecter Executive Strategy. Not only was Lecter, as an object of FBI interest, experienced in the Bureau’s flaws. As someone who killed and ate people, Lecter had an insider’s understanding of other people who kill and eat people."

I was asked by the dean to serve on that task force.

I never thought I would have to poll fellow task force members about their own past or present conflicts of interest, so I didn't.

No one ever told task force members - at least not me - about the history of Furcht and Powell. Maybe everyone else knew. But I was the outsider on this task force - the journalism guy from across the street.

I am disappointed and feel misled. I'm not sure that knowing these details up front would have changed anything about the task force report. But I do know I'd feel a lot better about the process had there been full transparency and disclosure up front - which is at the core of conflict of interest policies.

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