Exposing Enron corruption: "It's about the women up against the men"

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February 6, 2002

Barbie Loves Math



Hollywood is trying to figure out how to turn Enron into a TV movie.

How do they take all the stuff about "the contingent nature of existing restricted forward contracts" and "share-settled costless collar arrangements," jettison it like the math in "A Beautiful Mind," and juice it up?

Enron is such a mind-numbing black hole, even for financial analysts, that if you tried to explain all the perfidious permutations, you'd never come out the other end.

A movie executive asked Lowell Bergman, the former "60 Minutes" producer who is now an investigative reporter for The Times and "Frontline," for the most cinematic way to frame the story. (Mr. Bergman had the ultimate Hollywood experience of being played by Al Pacino in another corporate greed-and-corruption saga, "The Insider.")

"It's about the women up against the men," he replied.

Before you know it, Enron will be Erined, as in Brockovich. Texas good ol' girl, fast-talking, salt-of-the-earth whistle-blower Sherron Watkins will be Renee Zellweger in a Shoshanna Lonstein bustier. The adorable and intrepid Fortune reporter Bethany McLean, the first journalist to sound an alarm about Enron's accounting practices, will be look-alike Alicia Silverstone. And Loretta Lynch, the tough California utilities czarina and Yale-trained litigator who questioned a year ago what Enron did that was of any value to consumers, will be look- nothing-alike Angelina Jolie, sporting power plant tattoos.

"From the beginning of the California energy meltdown, women were not afraid to point a finger at the seventh-largest corporation in the U.S. and say `You can't do this,' " Mr. Bergman told me. "And the electric cowboys at Enron, where the culture had a take-no-prisoners, get-rid-of- any-regulation, macho perspective on the marketplace, was aggressive when it came to shutting them up."

As a Texas writer says: "This was Jeff Skilling's club and there weren't a lot of women in his club."

At first, the slicked-back Gordon Gekko C.E.O. and his arrogant coterie in the Houston skyscraper where men were wont to mess around and leave wives for secretaries dismissed female critics.

Some privately trashed Ms. Lynch as "an idiot" and coveted Ms. McLean, calling her "a looker who doesn't know anything." But when they realized the women were on to them, the company that intimidated competitors, suppliers and utilities tried to oust Ms. Lynch from her job and discredit Ms. McLean and kill her article.

When Ms. Watkins confronted Kenneth Lay with her fears last August, he knew the cat was spilling out of the beans, as Carmen Miranda used to say. Within two months he had to 'fess up to $600 million in spurious profits.

(In Houston's testosterone-fueled energy circles, many men watched Linda Lay crying on TV and muttered that in Texas, there is nothing lower than sending your wife out to fight your battle.)

As a feminine fillip, there's Maureen Castaneda, a former Enron executive who revealed the shredding shindigs there. Ms. Castaneda realized something was wrong when she took some shreds home to use as packing material and saw they were marked with the galactic names Chewco and Jedi, which turned out to be quasi-legal partnerships.

Only 10 years after Mattel put out Teen Talk Barbie whining "Math class is tough," we have women unearthing the Rosetta stone of this indecipherable scandal.

What does this gender schism mean? That men care more about inflating their assets? That women are more caring about colleagues getting shafted?

It is men's worst fear, personally and professionally, that women will pin the sin on them, come "out of the night like a missile and destroy a man," as Alan Simpson said during the Hill-Thomas hearings.

There has been speculation that women are more likely to be whistleblowers or tattletales when they are little because they are less likely to be members of the club.

Some men suggest that women, with their vast experience with male blarney, are experts at calling guys on it.

At Enron, it was men who came up with complex scams showing there was no limit to the question "How much is enough?" And it was women who raised the simple question, "Why?"

-- (3 cheers @ to. the ladies!), February 06, 2002


As more women reach higher levels within these corporations, they are proving that they are not as stupid as the macho pigs think they are, and they recognize lowdown dirty tricks when they see them. They are also proving that they hold a higher moral ground than many men who have given in to the temptation to get rich quick at the expense of others. They are to be congratulated for this, and I hope that someday soon we will see many more women running corporations and involved in the highest levels of government.

-- (You@go.girls!), February 06, 2002.

Most of the women I've encountered in middle management are extremely capable and highly ethical. It would have been hard for them to attain those positions otherwise. In general, a woman gets promoted to that level only if no excuse can be found for not promoting her.

I've also observed that extreme competence, whether in men or women, is perceived as a threat by those at the top.

-- David L (bumpkin@dnet.net), February 07, 2002.

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