"Facts have recently emerged about several journalists who quietly pocketed sizeable checks from Enron."
"Bill Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard, has reluctantly admitted that he received $100,000 for a two-year stint on an Enron 'advisory board' that didn't do much of anything."
"New York Times op-ed columnist Paul Krugman got $50,000 from Enron to serve on the company's phantom-like advisory board in 1999, before he joined the newspaper."
"Republican wordsmith Peggy Noonan, who writes purportedly visionary commentaries for The Wall Street Journal, has said that she was paid between $25,000 and $50,000 for assisting Enron's Lay with a speech and annual report."
"Now, maybe I can be helpful. In a collegial spirit, I'd like to provide -- at no charge -- some wording that they could use in their own full-page ads."
| When a large company is getting
clobbered by news stories
and pundits, the damage-control response often includes packing full-page newspaper ads with solemn reassurances. That's what the Arthur Andersen accounting firm has been doing this month, to wash some of the mud off its name as the outfit that assisted with Enron's phony bookkeeping.
Andersen is "committed to making fundamental changes in its business as a result of the issues raised by the Enron matter," says one of the big-type advertisements -- headlined "An Open Letter from Joe Berardino, Managing Partner and CEO, Andersen." The ad explains that changes "already taking place ... are major steps toward reforming our U.S. audit practice and transforming our firm."
Such ads are carefully crafted by PR agencies that specialize in blending tones of repentance, wisdom and resilience. The aim is to make headway with investors, Wall Street analysts, journalists and the general public. So, a contrite Andersen ad pledges that "we will be accountable for our actions, will learn from the experience, and will become a better firm as a result." Theoretically, those kinds of ads are prudent.
But most readers can probably recognize the cloying phraseology as self-serving. Full-page ad statements might be more convincing if they went a bit heavier on the honesty.
Andersen would really seem to be turning over a new corporate leaf if it gambled on candor. For instance: "We made huge profits by helping Enron with its shell game. Now the game is over, and we're ready to repent. We've suffered consequences of getting caught, so we figure that in the future we'll be more trustworthy than other accounting firms."
But people like
Berardino and Enron's Kenneth Lay aren't the only high-profile
professionals facing significant media-image problems. These days, some
prominent American journalists might want to consider taking out a few
full-page ads themselves.
An Open Letter
from Bill Kristol: "Members of the vast left-wing conspiracy are
trying to make a big deal out of a hundred grand. That's less than our
magazine's annual martini budget! Let's get real -- I can't be bought for
that kind of money. Besides, if you don't want capitalism with a rapacious
edge to it, you've got the alternative of soul-murdering Communist
Norman Solomon is executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy (I'd recommend a visit to the site), a nationwide consortium of public-policy researchers. His column, normally titled, "Media Beat," is nationally syndicated in a wide variety of newspapers. He has written op-ed pieces for Boston Globe, Washington Post, Newsday, New York Times, Miami Herald, Los Angeles Times, USA Today and Baltimore Sun, and is a far more successful writer than Alex Sandell will ever be. If you'd like to see his weekly "Media Beat" column published on the opinion page of your local daily newspaper(s), please contact the opinion-page editor at the paper(s) and suggest that the paper give his column a try. Please mention to editors that his weekly column is available to newspapers from Creators Syndicate. The Juicy Cerebellum would like to thank Mr. Solomon for allowing it to run his columns. Please be back here Thursday for Solomon's next column. Feel free to come back, in the meantime, to read Alex Sandell's inferior, yet slightly amusing, ramblings.
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