In the wake of Skilling, Lay verdicts, news outlets ignored Bush's ties to Enron

››› ››› JOSH KALVEN

In their reporting on the conviction of former Enron Corp. executives Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Skilling on fraud and conspiracy charges, the network news programs all failed to mention the ties between the fallen corporation and President Bush. Further, the Los Angeles Times ran six separate articles on the Enron verdicts on May 26, but not a single one noted Bush's connection to Enron and, in particular, his close personal and political ties to Lay.

In their reporting on the May 25 conviction of former Enron Corp. chairman Kenneth Lay and former president Jeffrey Skilling on fraud and conspiracy charges, the network news programs -- ABC's World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, NBC's Nightly News, and PBS' The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer -- all failed to mention the ties between the fallen corporation and President Bush. Further, the Los Angeles Times ran six separate articles on the Enron verdicts on May 26, but not a single one noted Bush's connection to Enron and, in particular, his close personal and political ties to Lay.

Bush's efforts in recent years to distance himself from Lay -- whom he nicknamed "Kenny Boy" -- have been widely reported. However, the release in 2002 of numerous letters exchanged between the two during Bush's tenure as Texas governor provided concrete evidence of their "chummy" relationship. For instance, in a 1997 birthday letter to Lay, then-governor Bush wrote:

One of the sad things about old friends is that they seem to be getting older -- just like you! 55 years old. Wow! That is really old. Thank goodness you have such a young, beautiful wife. Laura and I value our friendship with you. Best wishes to Linda, your family, and friends."

The connection between Lay and Bush went beyond mere friendship. Lay and Enron were major benefactors throughout Bush's political career. According to the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP), Lay and his wife, Linda, contributed $139,500 to Bush's political campaigns over the years, including a $100,000 contribution to the Bush-Cheney 2001 Inaugural Fund and $10,000 to the Bush-Cheney 2000 [Florida] Recount Fund. Moreover, during the 2000 campaign, Bush received $113,800 from Enron's PAC and employees, and during his 1994 and 1998 Texas gubernatorial campaigns, he accepted $312,500 from Enron's PAC and employees. Indeed, the Center for Public Integrity determined that Enron was Bush's top lifetime contributor until January 2004, when it was surpassed by MBNA Corp.

CRP also reported that Enron provided Bush with 14 private jet flights during the 2000 campaign, including two after Election Day. Robert Bryce, author of Pipe Dreams: Greed, Ego, and the Death of Enron (PublicAffairs, 2002) and Cronies: Oil, the Bushes, and the Rise of Texas, America's Superstate (PublicAffairs, 2004), wrote the following in a washingtonpost.com online discussion: "According to the [Bush-Cheney] campaign's IRS filings, Enron's jets were used 4 different times during the period that covers the [Florida] recount."

Nonetheless, in their various reports on the convictions of Lay and Skilling, the three major news networks, as well as PBS' NewsHour, failed to inform viewers of the longstanding relationship -- both personal and political -- between Bush and the company. The Los Angeles Times, meanwhile, published six articles on the Enron story (here, here, here, here, here and here), but none contained a mention of Bush.

By contrast, May 26 articles on the Enron verdicts that appeared in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal (subscription required) made passing mention of the White House connections, and The Washington Post devoted an entire article to Lay's transition from "a personal and political ally to someone the White House sought to keep as distant as possible."

Network/Outlet
PBS, CBS, NBC, ABC
Show/Publication
PBS NewsHour, ABC World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News
Stories/Interests
Propaganda/Noise Machine
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