Holmes Report Blog

The Holmes Report blog focuses on news and issues of interest to public relations professionals. Our main site can be found at www.holmesreport.com.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Lawyers and PR People: Surely the Jeff Skilling defense team includes someone who understands the media, so how come it was a lawyer and not a public relations professional who wrote a recent letter to Fortune (published in the March 20 edition; I couldn’t find it online) lambasting the magazine for assigning Peter Elkind and Bethany McLean to cover the Enron trial?

The letter—a strange combination of bluster and naïveté—from Daniel Petrocelli of O’Melveny & Myers starts with the suggestion that Elkind and McLean, authors of the Enron potboiler The Smartest Guys in the Room, should not have been assigned the case because “these two have an obvious financial interest in having the trial—or at least the perception of the trial—turn out consistent with the one-sided and ultimately cartoonish depiction of Enron and my client in their book.”

It may be obvious to Petrocelli, but it isn’t obvious to me. Does he believe the book will sell more copies if Skilling is found guilty? That seems improbable. I suspect everyone who’s interested has already read it. Is he implying that the two authors will be sued if Skilling is cleared? He must be more knowledgeable about First Amendment law than that.

Then he goes on to site a couple of instances of what he deems biased reporting from Elkind and McLean. In one, the authors say that Skilling and Ken Lay “never much cared for one another” (wow, that’s a real zinger!) in another they discussed “Enron’s betrayal of its investors, employees and customers.”

“These statements are false,” says the lawyer. “But at a minimum a responsible journalist—and one without a conflict of interest—would have properly qualified such statements as, say, being ‘alleged.’”

To which the only appropriate response would appear to be: “Grow up.” Is this the first time one of Petrocelli’s clients has ever been the subject of media scrutiny? Does he really not understand that reporters are governed by standards dramatically different from those applied in the courtroom?

There may be a perfectly good case to be made that Elkind and McLean’s coverage of the trial has been flawed. But all this letter does is make it clear that when it comes to the court of public opinion, at least, this attorney is way out of his depth.

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