Friday, March 30, 2007

'Sharing Concern' About Business Journalism

Winokur (second from left) and other Enron board members in 2002

I was intrigued to see the following in the memo announcing a new editor for CJR Daily's "Audit" business journalism watchdog site, which appeared on the Romenesko media blog:

The Audit is made possible by Herbert Winokur, Jr., a business executive turned investment manager, and by other individuals who share a concern about the quality of business reporting.
Can't understand why CJR is being so modest, and didn't provide more details about the backers of this project. Winokur is a pretty well-known guy, at least to those of us who followed Enron. He was a longtime member of Enron's board of directors during all the stuff that made Enron a household word, and was chairman of its finance committee.

I can understand Winokur's concern about the "quality" (i.e., favorableness or lack thereof) of business reporting, considering how much of a shellacking he and the other Enron board members received.

Many articles covering the scandal, such as this one from early 2002 in the New York Times, pointed to the role of Winokur's finance committee in reviewing transactions by Enron's off balance sheet partnerships.

He and other members of the Enron board were hauled before the House Commerce Committee, and Winokur did not exactly cover itself in glory, according to Frank Rich of the Times. Pointing to an internal report on the Enron disaster, Rich said:

One author is Herbert Winokur Jr., an Enron outside director who was in the fortunate position of having a big say in a report passing judgment on his own questionable corporate citizenship. Appearing before the House Commerce Committee with condescension in his voice and a flag pin in his lapel, he contradicted himself so much under questioning that one member, Bart Stupak of Michigan, told me he had ''impeached his own testimony.''
Gee, I'd be concerned about the "quality" of business reporting after reading stuff like this.

Or reading about how the board itself was slammed for its role in Enron's collapse. Or reading another Times article after Winokur resigned from the Harvard board in April 2002:

"Many shareholder advocates and others have been calling for Enron directors to be removed from the boards of other insitutions." The Times pointed out that "a special committee of the board concluded that [the Enron board] failed to provide adequate oversight."

Wouldn't that make you up in arms about the "quality" of business reporting? Makes me wonder about the identity of the other "individuals" who share Winokur's "concern" about business reporting.

Oh, that new "Audit" editor is Dean Starkman, formerly of the Wall Street Journal. I wish him well. He does not have big shoes to fill, as I and other critics of "Audit" have pointed out.

The former editor raised eyebrows for, among other things, his peculiar affection for websites that push wacko conspiracy theories and personally attack journalists to advance the interests of latter-day Enrons.

I always thought that was a bit odd -- until I read that memo on the Romenesko site.

UPDATE: Loren Steffy comments: "Actually, I think Winokur may be on to something. I can think of a few other blogs he might want to finance. How about one called 'Minding the Store'?"

© 2007 Gary Weiss. All rights reserved.


Wall Street Versus America was published by Penguin USA on April 6.
Click here for its listing and here for more information on the book, from my web site,

Labels: ,

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner