EDITORIAL: As Enron was crumbling around him, Palmer's integrity allowed his reputation to stay intact

The stories that are rarely told but most compelling are those inside glimpses into an embattled PR team in crisis. A recent example of that is 24 Days, by Wall Street Journal reporters Rebecca Smith and John Emshwiller, who broke the story of Enron's notorious partnership schemes.

The stories that are rarely told but most compelling are those inside glimpses into an embattled PR team in crisis. A recent example of that is 24 Days, by Wall Street Journal reporters Rebecca Smith and John Emshwiller, who broke the story of Enron's notorious partnership schemes.

Two key figures in the saga are Mark Palmer, Enron's VP of corporate communications and his boss Steve Kean, Enron's chief of staff. Included is one heated exchange in which Emshwiller, frustrated at himself and Palmer for the latter's factual answer to a key (but incomplete) question concerning the LJM write-off, accuses Palmer of misleading him. An exasperated Palmer, who had gone four days without sleep prior to the conversation and whose team was fielding some 400 calls a day, responded in language that PR textbooks warn you never to use when addressing members of the press. Wisely, Kean sent him home to get some rest. Though Palmer clearly winces at the memory, for him it was an attack on his professional ethics. "One thing I was trying to protect and preserve throughout this process was my integrity," Palmer said, adding, "I think they reflect that in the book." The essence of Palmer's dilemma was facing a media onslaught without information, while trying to remain true to his principles of serving the shareholders, the media, and the company. "What I was trying to do was help them as much as I could and not misrepresent information that I really didn't know," he explained. In one section, CFO Andrew Fastow upbraids Palmer and Kean for suggesting that the company agree to the Journal's requests for an interview about LJM. "[Fastow] disagreed violently with me," Palmer said. "When it was clear [Fastow] wasn't going to talk, we didn't feel there was any way to accurately answer the Journal's questions. The company very quickly imploded after that." Palmer is not suggesting Enron's problems could have been avoided if senior executives had only listened to in-house PR counsel. But even these hardened WSJ reporters acknowledge the impossibility of his situation. Palmer could not have saved Enron's reputation, but somehow he managed to save his own. It seems Campbell spun himself out of a job The resignation of Alastair Campbell from his position as UK Prime Minister Tony Blair's director of communications, amid ongoing scrutiny of the British government's public case for war with Iraq, supposedly signals an end to Downing Street "spin." Campbell is reputed to have insulted and obfuscated his way to the hit lists of most of the country's political media. Interestingly, Campbell was moved into the White House-esque role of "director of communications" two years ago, apparently because his public profile was damaging the image of Blair and his government. That position had not existed before, and was said to be a more strategic role, rather than a press-facing one. If reports of Campbell's inelegant dealings with the media are accurate, the distinction was not enough to insulate him, or the government, from criticism that they lack credibility.

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