Media Moves

How a biz reporter got his Skilling interview

October 25, 2006

In the wake of former Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling being sentenced to more than two decades in prison earlier this week, former Dow Jones Newswire reporter Jason Leopold recounts how he was able to obtain an interview with the disgraced corporate leader right after the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy court protection. (I won’t get into issues about Leopold and his reporting on non-Skilling stories, but you can read about those here if the name doesn’t ring a bell.)

Jason LeopoldLeopold wrote, “I was the Los Angeles bureau chief of Dow Jones Newswires and had cut my teeth as a business reporter writing about Enron and its role in the California energy crisis. I went through hell to land that interview and ruffled a few of my colleagues’ feathers along the way. Apart from Osama bin Laden, Jeff Skilling was the only high-profile interview target journalists pursued in late 2001. Skilling could have stubbed his big toe and it would have been front-page news if someone got wind of it. Because he resigned from Enron citing personal reasons two months before the company’s accounting machinations were exposed, people were interested in what Skilling knew and when he knew it. But he wasn’t talking.

“I aggressively pursued Skilling’s spokesman in Houston, Denis Calabrese, for two months before he convinced Skilling to grant me an exclusive interview. I took the red-eye to Washington, DC, on Wednesday, December 20, 2001, and met Skilling at his attorney’s office. Calabrese had said I wasn’t allowed to use a tape recorder during the interview because the government might try to subpoena any tapes as evidence. Before I walked into the conference room to meet Skilling, one of the attorneys gave me a binder filled with newspaper clippings praising Skilling and his work. She said I should use it as background information. I never did.

“Bruce Hiler, Skilling’s attorney – who, ironically, used to work for the Securities and Exchange Commission prosecuting people like Skilling – led me into the conference room to meet the infamous ex-CEO. I had no idea Skilling was so short. He was about five seven, and balding. How could such a short man have run such a big company, I wondered. When I shook Skilling’s hand, it was limp. This was a man who had a reputation for abrasive treatment of journalists and analysts who had questioned Enron’s financial claims.

“‘You got 40 minutes,’ said Hiler, who sat in on the interview. I took a yellow legal pad from my knapsack and fired away.”

Read more here.

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