He's Still Our Guy

We have been called to account on our criticism of the Houston Chronicle's Enron coverage, and we plead guilty.

We have questioned some of the work done by Houston's Leading Information Source, but that was not enough for one reader.

He pointed out to us that we had somehow missed the lead on a Chronicle front-page story November 11, a story dealing with the fact that Enron had just made a public announcement that it overstated its income to the tune of about $600 million over the past four years.

The Chron's lead on this story? Here it is: "Ever have to fix an error in your checkbook when you get your monthly bank statement in the mail? Imagine the headache Enron Corp. is facing."

We admit we somehow missed that. As to how it happened, we're taking the Fifth.

But that doesn't mean we won't continue to be entertained by our only daily's ongoing apoplexy over covering Enron. It deserves credit for a January 24 scoop that the company was hiding losses in its putatively profitable energy-trading business, but the next day the paper returned to its boosterish self.

That day was devoted to follow-ups to the resignation of Ken Lay, and the paper devoted an inside page to the effort, with the banner headline "Legal Maze Likely to Keep Lay Busy."

We learned that Lay would have to be dealing with a lot of lawyers in the future (this story somehow wasn't copyrighted as a scoop). There were two other stories on the page: "A Humble Beginning -- With a Drive to Succeed" described Lay's rise "from humble roots in rural Missouri…" "He is often described," the story said, "as a folksy man of the people who never lost sight of his origins -- or his drive to succeed."

Huh? "He is often described as a folksy man of the people"? Not lately, we're guessing.

The pointless bio continued with descriptions of Lay's family and charitable work and ended with this paragraph: "Lay has also been a political player at the state and national levels. He served as chairman of the Houston Host Committee for the 1992 Republican National Convention, which nominated President George H.W. Bush."

Geez. We're pretty sure the Weekly Reader had a more trenchant take on Lay than that.

Better yet was the third story on the page: "Like Enron Employees, Lay Could Lose Nearly All."

The story said Lay had made a fortune at Enron. "But much like the vast majority of the company's employees and shareholders, he could now lose nearly everything," it said, because of lawsuits against him.

And just where is the Reverend Al Sharpton on this pressing matter? The Chron doesn't say. It takes a lot of effort, not to mention chutzpah, to equate Lay's potential civil and criminal liability with the financial losses suffered by Enron's too-faithful grunt workers, and that effort apparently took enough out of the Chronicle that it couldn't get a comment from Sharpton.

That day's Lay rehabilitation couldn't be confined to just one page, by the way. There was yet another story by a local staff writer who apparently couldn't be assigned to anything better: "Enron Chief's Departure Creates Huge Civic Void," the headline read. There was a rare pullquote above that inside head (" 'He was a visionary and a very constructive force for just about every worthwhile cause in this city' -- Former Mayor Bob Lanier") and a subhed that informed us that the "Public Leadership Role Forged by Lay May Prove Tough to Fill."

"Bob Eury, executive director of the Houston Downtown Management District, said Lay had been the model civic leader," the story said. " 'It's caused everybody to say, 'How do we get another Ken?' And more importantly, 'How do we have several Kens?' Eury said."

Let the word go forth from this time and place: No one can touch the Houston Chronicle when it comes to covering the pressing issue of just how Houston can find more Ken Lays.

A Picture's Worth

Lay's exit was the big news of the day everywhere in Houston, of course, but no one covered it quite like Channel 2.

On the morning news show January 24, an anchor went on about how Lay was quitting Enron, and what the future might hold for the departed executive. As he spoke, the station showed some video from its vaults.

Except the video it showed was of American Taliban John Walker Lindh. As the anchor pondered how Lay might be treated from now on, viewers saw shots of the bearded traitor being manhandled around a prison.

We think it was a mistake. But maybe someone in KPRC's control room has a 401(k) filled with Enron stock.


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