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Government’s GM-Chrysler Ties Make Toyota Probe Look Bad

Published Wednesday, March 10, 2010 7:00 am
by Peter Roff

There are a lot of places a politician does not want to get caught in Washington. One is leaving the scene of an accident. Another is coming out of a strip club. A third is in the middle of an apparent conflict of interest.
The charge that an appearance of a conflict of interest exists is, more often than not, used as a smear, as a way to blacken someone's reputation without having all the facts in order. It's hard to defend against, something on the order of deciding how answer the question "Hey buddy, when did you stop beating your wife?" in a way that doesn't add to your troubles.
An apparent conflict of interest, being largely subjective and based on the way an aggrieved party or crusading journalist interprets the facts, is a difficult thing to explain. Which makes it far more difficult to deal with than an actual conflict of interest--which these days is usually dispatched easily by admitting to it or reporting it, apologizing, and then seeking and receiving a waiver from the controlling legal authorities, which allows everyone to go forward as if nothing untoward happened.
For that reason, apparent conflicts get far more attention than actual conflicts. And it's a shame.
Take the case of Toyota. The giant Japanese automaker is now being investigated by several federal agencies and--thanks at least in part to pressure from the White House--at least one committee of the U.S. Congress, which are looking into allegations that many of the cars it currently manufactures have safety problems.
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