Feb 4, 2002
“It’s gone. There’s nothing left. Everything we had mostly was in Enron stock.” These were not the tearful words of an ordinary employee laid off from Enron, nor someone who saw their retirement savings go up in smoke with the crash of Enron. No, they are the words of Linda Lay, the wife of Ken Lay, the former CEO of Enron, during a recent interview on NBC’s “Today Show.”
Over two mornings, NBC basically gave Linda Lay all the time she needed to make her case on the top-rated morning show. This was then repeated throughout the day on all the news shows.
Of course, Lisa Myers, the person who conducted the interview, could have challenged at least some of Linda Lay’s assertions. Myers could have asked what happened to the 200 million dollars that Enron paid Ken Lay over the past three years. She could have asked about the hundreds of millions of dollars in Lay’s holdings, in stocks, bonds, real estate, yachts, private planes, along with the luxurious perks that go along with them. She could have asked about all the money sent to off-shore banks.
But Myers didn’t. This interview was simply a publicity stunt, engineered by Hill and Knowlton, the powerful public relations firm hired by the Lay family. Hill and Knowlton negotiated the details of the “Today Show “ interview with NBC. They precisely scripted Linda Lay’s replies.
Public relations companies, like Hill and Knowlton, often shape how news and public policy are presented. During the Persian Gulf War, a little more than a decade ago, Hill and Knowlton was hired by the Kuwaiti government to gain U.S. public support for killing hundreds of thousands of people in Iraq.
Behind the scenes, Hill and Knowlton executives put together an unofficial U.S. Congressional committee to hold hearings about the war. The most dramatic moment in the hearings came when a young Kuwaiti woman tearfully told how she supposedly saw Iraqi troops in Kuwaiti hospitals, pulling infants out of incubators, leaving them to die. This elicited a roar of outrage over the entire world, with the testimony being repeated for weeks and months on all the news shows.
Only after the war was over, that is, when it was too late, did it come out that the tearful young Kuwaiti woman was actually the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to the U.S., and she had been in Washington during the whole war. In other words, the barbaric incident was a complete fabrication, produced by the people of Hill and Knowlton.
The fact that today the Lay family is able to use Hill and Knowlton not only proves that they are far from broke – after all, the company must charge quite a lot for its services – but also, that, despite the charges of fraud on a gigantic scale, despite their fall into disgrace, the Lays must still have very powerful friends in the highest places of government and business.