Remember Brenda Fitzgerald, the problematic former Public Heath Commissioner of Georgia, who went along a bit too complacently with the soda industry’s Blame the Victim doctrine? Big Soda says obesity is the fault of the customer, for not exercising enough to work off the calories, which are solely their own responsibility. Fitzgerald accepted Coke’s million dollar gift and started the SHAPE program, and wrote a nice puff piece for Coke’s website.
Strangely, in the effort to bring fitness to Georgia children, she never mentioned the notion of cutting down on soft drinks. Journalists took note of this omission. Last July, Fitzgerald was appointed director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In other words, she was put in charge of America’s health.
Journalists did some research, and discovered that the relationship between the CDC and the Coca-Cola Company was already inappropriately cozy. Also, there was the Dr. Barbara Bowman affair. When that CDC official was questioned about possible conflict of interest, she resigned within a few days. There had also been the Dr. Pratt scandal.
Anyway… After Fitzgerald had been in office for only half a year, somebody pulled the plug, thanks to Politico’s investigative journalism. The issue wasn’t the machinations of the fizzy drink empire — although some people found out about the questionably close ties with Coke who had not know before, and it added fuel to the fire. No, it was a relationship much more likely upset even the hardcore supporters of soda pop. This was about tobacco.
Think again about the name of the agency that Fitzgerald had been given the privilege of running. The words “Disease Control and Prevention” are right there in the title. You’d think that seeing them daily, on the agency’s seal and letterhead and various other places, might serve as a reminder that disease is bad, and should be prevented and controlled whenever possible.
Most Americans have heard by now that the country’s number one preventable cause of disease and death is smoking. What irked a lot of people was the fact that while heading Georgia’s health system, Fitzgerald had already owned stock in five different tobacco companies, and then went ahead and bought more tobacco stock after becoming head of the CDC.
What does this say about the vetting process that inspired advisors to put her forward as the best candidate for the appointment in the first place? Isn’t this the sort of embarrassment that a whole bureaucracy exists specifically to avoid?
How did the advisors fail to red-flag the egregious conflict of interest? Julia Belluz and Dylan Scott wrote,
Fitzgerald had already been criticized for divesting older financial holdings in food and drug companies too slowly, and for her cozy relationship with the soda industry… But the tobacco links Politico uncovered were more alarming because they reportedly involved actions Fitzgerald took while she was already in charge of the nation’s public health agency…
Former CDC officials, including the previous director, felt moved to speak in her defense, to no avail. Fitzgerald’s resignation happened so fast that people who worked there showed up one morning to find that they had a new boss, the principal deputy director, Dr. Anne Schuchat, who had also filled in as acting director before Fitzgerald arrived on the scene.
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