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Linda Lay: Our hearts bleed for you
Wednesday, January 30, 2002
That was one risky gambit by Kenneth Lay's PR team, putting his wife on national television to defend her husband and cry about the family's lost Enron fortune.
It'll be interesting to see how it plays out in the public's perception.
My prediction: Not too bloody well.
The thing about seeking sympathy is that success depends primarily on other people's ability to place themselves in your shoes.
That's what made Hillary Clinton's appearances on behalf of her hound dog husband as effective as they were in the polls.
Just about every woman in America has either had a cheating man in her life at one time, or has lived the experience vicariously through a close female friend or relative.
It's an awful spot to be in under the most private of circumstances, but having to live out such anguish and humiliation in public as the wife of the president -- well, a lot of people felt her pain -- and they weren't all Democrats, either.
But somehow, when the wife of Enron's former head honcho sobs on the "Today" show about having "lost everything" to the point where they're being forced to sell their houses in Aspen, it just doesn't pluck quite the same way at the heartstrings of the average citizen.
And then there are all those Enron employees whose life savings were tied up in company stock that is now worthless --stock that Linda Lay's husband assured them was on very firm ground even as he was selling off his own for many millions. One can just imagine the conversations at those dinner tables.
"Well, so much for the kids' college fund and our retirement."
"Yes, but there are still those less fortunate than we."
"By golly, you're right. Let's send our last $1,000 to the Ken and Linda Lay Colorado Real Estate Fund!"
"Of course! If we can help them save at least one of their $6 million homes, none of this will have been in vain."
As for Linda Lay's claim that her husband was totally out of the Enron loop, fraudwise, and that he has too much integrity to have permitted anything untoward to happen on his watch -- it's entirely likely that she believes this. Somehow, though, I doubt that her appearance convinced anyone else.
For the record, here's what The Washington Post was reporting yesterday about the couple's personal finances, as far as they can be determined.
They have at least $8 million in stock in two outside companies where Ken Lay was a director; $25 million in real estate holdings, including a luxury Houston apartment worth $7.1 million and four properties in Aspen; $200 million from Enron over the past three years, plus access to the company jet; and a severance agreement worth up to $25 million.
Just out of curiosity, I got on the Post's Business Talk message board yesterday to see what folks were saying about the "Today" gambit. Only one seemed to take the Lays' side (this is The Washington Post, after all):
"To assume Enron had any more or less influence is simply speculation by professional liberals and without PROOF, but then liberals don't need facts, you have your feelings ..."
The rest pretty much read like this: "Oh Puhleeeeeeese ... how stupid does she think the American public is??"
"This guy cashed in millions in stocks BEFORE Enron went bankrupt. ... And yet the CEO knew nothing??"
"Linda Lay should be horsewhipped ..."
"Linda Lay and Tammy Faye Bakker -- two of a kind. Get on that TV, Hon, and cry real good for them folks and maybe you can keep your asses out of jail and the Bentley Azure, too. NOT!"
"I look forward to seeing how super the Lays look in their new Gucci jumpers and gold-plated ankle cuffs ..."
And, my favorite, "I predict that it will be disclosed that the entire collapse was the result of a secret rogue inside operation of sleeper cabalistic Clintonistas who forged the necessary documents, set up the offshore shadow partnerships, and then THEY milked the proceeds to quietly fund the Democratic Party's insurgency ... "
Perhaps these comments will not turn out to be widely representative of the nation's reaction. But if you ask me, that SPLAT you heard in the background of Linda Lay's appearance was not a big tear hitting the ground. It was the unmistakable echo of a belly flop.
-- (email@example.com), January 30, 2002
Published Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2002, in the San Jose Mercury News
The opinion of the Mercury News
Oh, the Ken Lay story is just so terribly tragic
This week Mrs. Kenneth Lay went on ``Queen for a Day,'' no wait, it was the ``Today'' show, to lament losing hundreds of millions of dollars in about 20 seconds.
``It's gone,'' she said. ``There's nothing left. Everything we had was mostly in Enron stock.''
Oops. For those of you listening at home: Diversify, diversify, diversify.
Also, she revealed exclusively to NBC, Mr. Kenneth Lay, former CEO of Enron, former close friend of Mr. President, former glowing comet in the business firmament, is getting a bum rap.
Mr. Lay is not making public relations appearances, undoubtedly on the stern advice of his lawyers, of which he will, and ought, to need many.
The Linda Lay PR offensive -- how apt the ``offensive'' is -- was an unforeseen twist in the Enron soap opera. Utterly predictable was the appearance of Jesse Jackson, also on the scene in Houston this week. While Jackson did raise the issue of justice for Enron workers cheated out of their pensions, he crossed up expectations by failing to criticize Kenneth Lay. Instead, he compared Lay to Job.
Job? Evidently Jackson was thinking of the part in the story where God drops the hammer on Job because Job's whole sheep-herding operation was a charade to launder losses in the fig trade.
Unlike Job, Kenneth Lay earned his affliction. Either he connived in the Enron sham or he was America's most ludicrously overpaid CEO.
It's the old knave-or-fool bind. And it's going to take a whale of a lot of PR wizardry to wiggle out of it.
-- (firstname.lastname@example.org), January 30, 2002.