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Maleski and Enron: Making Hay While the Sun Shines

02/13/02 12:00AM By Philip Baruth

Mr. Chairman, Distinguished Members of the Sub-Committee, I thank you for the opportunity to appear at these hearings. Like you, I am anxious to gain a deeper understanding of the collapse of Enron, one of America's most misunderstood corporate citizens.

Let me go to the heart of the matter first. The committee has made clear that it would like to know how I, a simple public radio commentator without any training in either high finance or energy trading, merited a one-time payment of some 643 million dollars on or around the 18th of March, 2001. The suggestion was made the other day in the Washington Post, I think it was, that Enron had somehow managed to purchase commentaries favorable to Enron from myself and other public radio commentators, commentaries that helped to artificially inflate Enron's bottom line.

Let me just say this about that: occasionally Kenneth Lay or Mr. Skilling or one of the other Enron executives with school-age children would realize that their son and/or daughter was not performing adequately in school, specifically in their English classes. And they would come to me, in a manner entirely above board, and ask that I tutor that child, who might be reading Johnny Tremain, say, or Huckleberry Finn, good red-blooded, two-fisted American literature.

And often it happened that Mr. Lay or Mr. Skilling would forget their checkbook when they came to pick up their child, and they might tell me something to the effect of, "I'll catch you next time." Mr. Chairman, we're all forgetful humans. I tried to be understanding and to wait patiently for the money I'd earned, and eventually these payments reached the point where Ken Lay was quite simply embarrassed about it, and he finally just issued a check for the whole 640 some-odd million, just so he wouldn't feel that there was any tension between us when we'd meet in the supermarket or at Costco, where we shop regularly, as do most Americans.

Can I assure the committee of the same level of innocence on the part of other public radio personalities? Mr. Chairman, I cannot. In addition to the names I've already provided the committee in closed proceedings, I will with great reluctance add the name of the man perhaps most accountable and least criticized for the Enron melt-down: Eye-on-the-Sky forecaster Steve Maleski. It was Maleski who originally suggested the Cayman Islands as an offshore haven for profits, reportedly giving Enron executives both "recreational" and "extended mid-day" forecasts for the Islands on a regular basis. It has been said that Enron made hay while the sun shone, and I would ask the committee to consider that the sun shines pretty much only when Steve Maleski says it will.

So if the committee has only the resources to pursue one of us on public radio, I would suggest that it pursue Steve Maleski, pursue him ferociously and without ceasing, and let the chips fall where they may. Preferably, on Steve Maleski.

Thank you, gentlemen, and may God bless the United States of America.

--Philip Baruth is a novelist living in Burlington. He teaches at the University of Vermont.

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