Wall Street Journal on Houston after EnronIn our continuing efforts to pass along how the world is perceiving Houston, here's a Wall Street Journal profile of Houston as the Enron trial gets underway (the whole thing, since it's on a subscription-only site).
Enron's Houston Trial Opens Wounds
Extensive Media Coverage Reveals Conflicted Feelings About City's Former Heroes
By SUSAN WARREN
Houstonians like to say their city has "moved on" from the days when the Enron Corp. debacle threatened to crush the city's spirit, but exhaustive local coverage of Enron executives' trial is moving the scandal right back into their face.
Local media outlets are devoting Super Bowl-level coverage to the trial of Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Skilling. The Houston Chronicle dedicated six pages, with only one advertisement, on Sunday to previewing the trial. The coverage was launched with a page-one headline screaming, "JUDGMENT DAY FOR ENRON."
Houston television and radio stations also are running multiple stories and carving out big blocks of space on their Web sites for parsing the Enron trial with news features, analysis, editorials and blogs by reporters and commentators.
"The circus is officially under way," said Kevin Whited, a Houston energy analyst who writes about local politics and media on bloghouston.net.
The media attention reflects Houston's still-conflicted feelings about Enron and its former executives, once heroes of the community, and now symbols of a humiliating reversal of fortune. At the time of Enron's collapse in 2001, the Houston Chronicle and other media were viewed as slow in picking up the story. Since then, as corporate scandals have erupted across the country, the city has bristled at suggestions in the national press that Enron was emblematic of the Houston business culture.
"The city, unfortunately, gets tied up in the trial in a way the white collar criminals in New York didn't get associated with the city of New York," said Garth Jowett, a communications professor at the University of Houston who specializes in propaganda and popular culture. He noted that when Wall Street figures went to prison for various offenses, "It wasn't a New York thing in the same way Enron became a Houston thing."
Charles Savino, executive vice president of the Greater Houston Partnership, an economic development group, said the Enron impact on Houston was overblown. Though near 6,000 people lost their jobs, the city's economy still employs roughly two million and has created 55,000 jobs in the last year.
Even news editors at local media outlets agree that there is little lingering impact from the Enron scandal in Houston. For a town built up around oilfield wildcatters, boom and bust is nothing new, said Keith Connors, executive news director at KHOU-TV in Houston, owned by Belo Corp. "It's not like other people haven't made a million and lost a million before," he said.
But the importance of the Enron story to Houston was driven home to him when he attended a theater showing of the Enron movie that premiered last spring. Whenever Mr. Lay or Mr. Skilling appeared on the screen, members of the audience leaped up to yell and curse at the men's images. "That told me there's still a lot of deep hurt," said Mr. Connors. "While Houston has moved on, people still want to see that justice is done."