By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
Sympathy for the Devil
The Houston Chronicle has always had a problem getting down on hometown boys, even those whose standing has sunk as low as former Enron CEO Jeff Skilling's. While the paper's editors have taken to conveniently dropping their previous puff pieces on the energy banditos down the paper's memory hole (see News Hostage, by Richard Connelly, December 20), Chron reporters apparently find the ol' softball approach hard to break.
On December 22, Laura Goldberg penned the sympathetic-to-a-fault front-pager headlined "Did No Wrong, Skilling Says." The piece is larded with nuggets like " 'The last two months have been the worst two months of my life,' he said, adding that he'd lost 14 pounds during the period."
About his responsibility to victimized workers and investors, Goldberg relayed Skilling's soul-searching "as the bags under his eyes should attest to, he noted, over decisions he made at Enron." Skilling's unchallenged explanations were that "we made the correct decisions given the information we had," and that he believed Enron was in excellent condition when he left.
The interview struck a never-never land note with Skilling's assertion that Enron was a success.
"We built a great company. We were doing great things. We were creating markets where markets didn't exist." According to the piece, Skilling explained that he had no monetary stake in several controversial investment partnerships, and that he left such financial details to "hundreds of highly qualified people to handle such matters."
At any moment, readers expected Skilling to launch into a Butterfly McQueen imitation: "I don't know nothin' about birthin' no corporations." Instead, he mimicked author Sebastian Junger by calling his former employer the victim of a perfect storm.
On the same day as Goldberg's piece, The New York Times published its own interview with Skilling, providing a very different view. The fourth paragraph states that Skilling sold off some of his company holdings shortly before the collapse, a tidbit the Chron never got around to mentioning. The Times story, by Richard Oppel Jr., also presents evidence that disputes Skilling's claims that he was unaware of the unusual financial transactions that led to the company's downfall. Oppel never gets around to describing Skilling's appetite, skin condition or sleeping habits.
Imagine if Osama bin Laden were a Houston homey and the Chron got an interview. We might learn how much weight bin Laden had lost as he agonized over the World Trade Center attack, how that persistent U.S. bombing had disturbed his slumber and put bags under his eyes. Finally, he'd insist he didn't know anything about running Al Qaeda -- that those sneaky assistants did all the bad stuff behind his back.