Generally I'm of the view that there are conflicts of interest everywhere and that, since they are impossible to avoid entirely, they just need to be managed and disclosed. But Barry Diller sure seems to be skating right up against the line in his Washington Post Co. directorship.
First the Post Company sells Newsweek for $1 plus the assumption of liabilities and a bunch of employees — only to see reports that Mr. Diller's Daily Beast is in serious talks with the new owner of Newsweek about some kind of partnership. If Mr. Diller saw a path to profitability for Newsweek, shouldn't he have spoken up while the Post Company still owned it?
Now comes the news that Howard Kurtz is leaving the Washington Post after 29 years to go work for Mr. Diller's Daily Beast. There are at least two possible scenarios here. One is that the Post was trying to get rid of Mr. Kurtz and that Mr. Diller was doing the Post Company a favor by assuming his salary. It's hard to see how that squares with Mr. Diller's obligation to IAC shareholders. Another is that the Post wanted to keep Mr. Kurtz and that Mr. Diller was hurting the Post by stealing Mr. Kurtz away to the Daily Beast. It's hard to see how that squares with Mr. Diller's obligation to Post shareholders.
I suppose a third possibility is that it's all happening at the Tina Brown level and Mr. Diller has little or nothing to do with it. But it might be something for Melinda French Gates, Lee Bollinger, Warren Buffett, Richard Wagoner, and the other members of the Washington Post Company board to get a handle on, or at least ask Donald Graham about.