Holding executives accountable for corporate wrongdoing
ASK THIS | September 27, 2010
If people, not guns, are responsible for killing people, then aren’t executives, not corporations, responsible when their products kill people? Such as GlaxoSmithKline executives who concealed for years that the drug Avandia increased heart risks, causing thousands of strokes, heart attacks and deaths? And isn't this an issue reporters should deal with?
By Morton Mintz
The top story in the Sept. 24 New York Times begins, "In a highly unusual coordinated announcement, drug regulators in Europe and the United States said Thursday that Avandia, the controversial diabetes medicine, would no longer be widely available."
Gardiner Harris wrote:
One study estimated that from 1999 to 2009, more than 47,000 people taking Avandia needlessly suffered a heart attack, stroke or heart failure, or died....
Senate investigators found that GlaxoSmithKline spent years hiding from regulatory authorities clear indications that Avandia increased heart risks.
The foregoing two paragraphs, on page A15, abutted an AP item about Teresa Lewis, who on the previous day became "[t]he first woman executed in the United States since 1905..." She had been convicted of conspiring to murder her son and step-son.
Putting aside the morality of the death penalty, let's assume that Ms. Lewis deserved to be lethally injected for causing the deaths of two people. And let's bear in mind that if guns don't kill people, people do, as gun advocates tirelessly assert, then corporations don't kill people, people do. So if Ms. Lewis deserves the death penalty, what punishment is deserved by the GlaxoSmithKline executives responsible for "needlessly" causing an estimated 47,000 or more heart attacks, strokes or multiple deaths and spending years concealing "clear indications that Avandia increased heart risks"?
But what punishment was actually inflicted? "In July, GlaxoSmithKline took a $2.3 billion liability charge related to legal cases involving Avandia and another medicine, Paxil," Harris wrote. "At the time, investors cheered the news as the company's attempt to set a ceiling for its liability surrounding the medicine."
In the Supreme Court's Citizens United 5-to-4 decision, the majority—conservatives, they're called—held that the First Amendment cannot stop corporations, just as it cannot stop flesh-and-blood persons, from spending money to support or denounce individual election candidates.
Would that same majority provide "Equal justice under law" (the phrase engraved on the front of the U.S. Supreme Court building) for corporate executives who knowingly assault and kill people?
I've got a bridge I'd like to sell you.
Morton Mintz (Nieman '64) is a senior adviser to the Nieman Watchdog project.
09/27/2010, 04:54 PM
No sale here. But so...?
Do we hold presidents, cabinet members, members of congress, the military command accountable for the wars of choice based on lies, manufactured intelligence, and falsehoods? Here the consequences may be thousands of criminal acts, from lies and fraud to torture and murder, tens of thousands of deaths, hundreds of thousands of injuries, and millions of displaced persons and shattered lives. These guys are normally rewarded by re-election and re-appointment, special honors, and largely regarded as national heroes.
In general, history shows that the greater the crime and the larger the number of participants in it, the less the chances of accountability and the greater the chances of adulation and reward.
It has always been so, and will always be so. I won't buy your bridge, nor would I entertain patently false hopes.
A dismal outlook, yes.
09/29/2010, 04:09 PM
Thales comment is not at all on point. Many federal and state laws establish criminal penelties for willful violations of public safety laws such as the Food Drug and Cosmetic Act. It and other federal criminal laws may well apply to Glaxo in this case. Mintz just points out they should be enforced by prosecutors...and the facts investigated and written about by the free press. It has happened before, such efforts could yet bring semblance of justice to this and similar cases. Perhaps newspapers should not be owned by corporations with obvious conflicts of interest.
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