Does it take a thief? Oftentimes, the media operate on the presumption that scoundrels are needed to cover scoundrels. And that suggests a possible future career path for Enron miscreants; they may be crumbums, but they seem to know their crooked craft—and that could make them good reportorial “gets.”
Hard to believe that journalists could sink so low? Well, consider the media-assisted comeback to Nicholas Leeson. Remember him? He was the Singapore-based rogue trader whose billion-dollar blundering and cover-upping bankrupted Barings Bank in 1995.
Leeson was jailed for a time, but he emerged to write a book—and a movie, too, was made about his life. Today, he still trades, but his currency now is quotes and soundbites about scandals and frauds. As The New York Times reported on Tuesday, the recent case of John Rusnak, the American who stands accused of squandering $750 million of his employer, Allied Irish Banks, has sent Leeson’s own stock soaring. “Mr. Leeson’s public relations managers are working overtime these days to capitalize” on his notoriety, the Times says, “juggling appointments for him to appear on the BBC and on CNN and to take calls from journalists.”
Is it moral for someone to profit from misdeeds? That’s the wrong question to ask reporters, who never object to a profit if it involves themselves. The right question is, will this particular ex-gang member, ex-porn star, or ex-Watergater punch up a story, or a story line? If so, then the answer, at least to journos, is obvious.
Poor Cliff Baxter. He was the Enron executive who killed himself, amidst disgrace, on January 30. He was young and handsome. He might have gotten a Leesonesque gig—if not for this scandal, then for the next one. He would have been a good get, but now he’s gone. But wait and see, another Enronian will crawl up, up from the slime, into the bright lights.