We Asked Editors if Financial Ties of Op-Ed Writers and Quoted “Experts” Matter? The Answer is…Apparently Not
Are media outlets doing enough to allow readers to evaluate the veracity of op-eds, guest columnists, media pundits and quoted “experts”?
Since 2011, we’ve examined how industry-funded pundits, masquerading as unbiased experts, are published and aired by influential media outlets. Recently, we received a tip about a group called Physicians Against Drug Shortages (PADS) and its crusade against entities that purchase medical supplies in bulk known as Group Purchasing Organizations (GPO).
We receive a lot of tips, most of which we don’t pursue. But a quick look at PADS raised troubling questions.
We compiled a list of 16 media outlets that recently quoted or published op-eds, editorials or comments written by those affiliated with or influenced by the physicians’ group and its Executive Director Philip Zweig. Then, we determined if any of these newspapers and trade publications had financial disclosure guidelines for guest authors as part of their submission processes. As we reported last week, the best asked for nothing more than an author’s name, address and phone number.
Survey of Editors
Next, we surveyed opinion page, news and standards editors of those 16 media outlets by asking them:
- Does your publication routinely ask columnists who submit op-eds for publication or “experts” who are quoted in a story about potential financial conflicts?
- Should your readers be informed about those financial conflicts?
- Is it proper for media organizations to publish op-eds on medical issues authored by physicians’ groups with no mention of financial connections?
Philip Zweig’s Ties to Medical Device Manufacturers
Despite our follow ups, none of the editors responded.
If they had asked about financial ties, they may have learned what we have: PADS Executive Director Philip Zweig has been employed and has direct financial ties to the medical device manufacturing companies Masimo Corporation and Retractable Technologies Inc. (RTI). Both companies have a significant history of opposing Group Purchasing Organizations.
RTI is a needle syringe manufacturer based out of Little Elm, Texas. Masimo is a leading maker of pulse oximeters, which measure oxygen levels of the blood.
Except for a few media outlets that included an editor’s note in the body of the news article, none of the 16 media outlets that quoted or published op-eds by Zweig or PADS members mentioned any of these apparent conflicts of interest.
We gathered a list of Mr. Zweig’s long-time ties to these two companies and other medical device industry affiliations. It includes his work “as a consultant to the producers of PUNCTURE, a Hollywood legal thriller that addresses GPO corruption.”
- Executive Director of Physicians Against Drug Shortages (2012-Present)
- Film consultant on production of the film “Puncture” (2008-2011)
- Media consultant for “entrepreneurial medical device companies” (1999-2008)
- Consultant for Masimo Corporation
- Worked for an Anti-GPO group “Stop GPO Kickbacks” (2006)
- Worked as a consultant for Retractable Technologies Inc. Contracts from Zweig’s first years with the company (here, here and here) show that he was compensated at a rate equal to an annual salary of nearly $120,000 and received 30,000 stock options in his first 18 months (1999-2007).
Considering this fact set, shouldn’t the media outlets that published Mr. Zweig’s op-eds and comments have asked about his financial connections?
Scott Peterson is executive director of Checks and Balances Project, an investigative watchdog blog that seeks to hold government officials, lobbyists and corporate management accountable to the public. Funding for C&BP is provided by Renew American Prosperity and individual donors.
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