DATE October 10, 2002 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Robert Bryce talks about his new book, "Pipe Dreams:
Greed, Ego and the Death of Enron"
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
"The Enron collapse is the most egregious example of executive piracy in
American corporate history," writes my guest, Robert Bryce. Bryce is the
author of the new book, "Pipe Dreams: Greed, Ego and the Death of Enron." He
says Enron's failure wasn't just due to faulty accounting or poor regulation.
It failed because key leaders at Enron lost their moral, ethical direction at
the same time that the company was making multibillion-dollar bets on fatally
flawed projects. In tracing Enron's rise and fall, Bryce examines not only
its financial dealings, but its political connections. He has covered Enron's
political activities since 1997.
Bryce is a former reporter for the Houston Chronicle, and has written for The
Texas Observer, as well as other newspapers and magazines. I asked Bryce what
makes the Enron story different from the other corporate scandals.
Mr. ROBERT BRYCE (Author, "Pipe Dreams: Greed, Ego and the Death of Enron"):
Well, Enron is different in that it's--despite WorldCom and Tyco and Adelphia,
Enron is still the biggest and the baddest of those scandals. At Enron there
was very deep and very hard-to-understand accounting fraud, there was
executive looting, there was the corruption of the investment bankers on Wall
Street, there was excessive use of stock options, there was excessive use of
derivatives, there was complete corruption of the investment banks that worked
with Enron. All of those things make this scandal, I believe, worse in many
ways and also more corrosive to the attitude of investors than any of those
GROSS: You write about every aspect of the Enron scandal. One of the areas
that you write about is the politics of Enron, how Enron was very well
politically connected, how it got that well-connected and what it got in
return for being that well-connected, so let's take a look a little bit at
the political picture...
Mr. BRYCE: Sure.
GROSS: ...with Enron. Why is it important for a company like Enron to have
friends in Washington?
Mr. BRYCE: Well, let me give you a little background first, then I'll answer
your question more directly. Houston oil companies have always been--and
Houston energy companies have always been interested in maintaining good ties
with Washington, because so many different parts of their businesses are
regulated, and then also, they're also looking for help from Washington when
they go overseas to open new markets and to explore for oil and gas in Africa
or in Asia or wherever.
What was important for Enron in terms of developing and really gaining friends
in Washington was that they were continually, particularly in the four to five
years before they went bankrupt, on the edge of new markets. They were
developing new ways of trading oil and gas, they were developing new ways of
creating new derivatives exchanges, and they had to make sure that as they
went into each new market, as they went into each new state for the
deregulation of electricity or to sell deregulated natural gas, they had to
make sure that the politicians in those jurisdictions were not going to impede
GROSS: Before we look at the Enron connections to the Bush family, let's look
at the Clinton administration. What did Enron do for President Clinton?
Mr. BRYCE: Well, they were a big contributor to the Democratic National
Committee. The Clinton administration included Enron executives on a number
of the trips that Commerce Secretary Ron Brown took abroad, but the most
important thing that the Clinton administration did for Enron was to provide
political risk insurance and loan guarantees through the Overseas Private
Investment Corporation, and this was critically important to Enron, because
during the years of the Clinton administration, Enron was moving overseas
rapidly, in a number of different regions, into India, into the United
Kingdom, into Africa, to build new power plants, to build new trading
operations, and they needed the backing of the Overseas Private Investment
Corporation to make sure that they could get financing from banks.
GROSS: Now the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, or OPIC, which is its
acronym, this is a group that's pretty unknown to most Americans. What does
Mr. BRYCE: Well, in short, this is the smallest but perhaps most powerful
investment bank in the world. The Overseas Private Investment Corporation was
created during the Nixon administration to provide loan guarantees and
political risk insurance to American corporations seeking to do business
overseas. OPIC is backed by the full faith and credit of the US Treasury, so
whatever loans that they extend, whatever political risk insurance they
extend, is backed by taxpayers.
Well, for instance, the best example of OPIC coming to help Enron was for
Enron's Dabhol power project. It was a huge power plant that Enron built in
India. It was the largest private investment made in India in the last 15
years; biggest single project in the last two decades in India as well. Well,
Enron would not have been able to make that investment, which ended up being
over $2 billion--it had partners with General Electric and Bechtel, the big
construction engineering firm, to build this power plant, but they would have
never been able to do it without the backing of the Overseas Private
Investment Corporation, which came up with loan guarantees and political risk
insurance to back the commercial banks, who then took the risk on the project.
But Enron made certain that it courted the Clinton administration to make sure
that they got the kind of treatment at OPIC that they wanted, and one former
OPIC staffer told me--and I have it in the book--he said whatever Enron wanted
at OPIC, it got.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Robert Bryce. He's an
investigative reporter who's written a new book called "Pipe Dreams: Greed,
Ego and the Death of Enron."
Let's talk about Enron's connections to George Bush Sr. and to George W.
Bush. What were Enron's first contacts with George H.W. Bush?
Mr. BRYCE: Well, Ken Lay was an early contributor to George H.W. Bush when
he made his first run for president against Ronald Reagan in 1980. Then
later, under the Reagan administration, Lay had a lot of contact with Bush in
the effort to deregulate the natural gas markets, which was done under the
Reagan administration. Then in '87, when Bush was running again for the White
House, Lay was one of his first contributors. He gave him $1,000, he chaired
fund-raisers in Houston. Then when Bush got to the White House, Lay had a
sleep-over at the White House with George H.W. Bush. So then in 1990, Bush
selected Lay to be a co-chairman of the host committee for the Economic Summit
of Industrialized Nations in Houston, so that gave Lay a lot of access to
Margaret Thatcher and to Gorbachev and other leaders who had come to Houston
for that meeting. So that was really--you know, over that decade, the
Lay-Bush connection really developed, and then that led to, of course, greater
cooperation and donations from Lay and Enron to George W. Bush.
GROSS: Before we get to George W. Bush, in 1993, Enron hired former Secretary
of State James Baker and former Secretary of Commerce Robert Mosbacher, and
they were just out of the first Bush administration. What was their positions
Mr. BRYCE: Ken Lay hired--at about that same time, he hired James A. Baker
III, Robert Mosbacher. At about that same time, he hired Wendy Gramm. But
Baker and Mosbacher were hired by Enron to go to Kuwait and lobby the Kuwaitis
on a power plant that Enron wanted to build in Kuwait. Now this is right
after the end of the Gulf War. And Kuwait had suffered enormous damage when
the Iraqis invaded, and Enron was one of a number of companies that were
really pushing the Kuwaitis to open up their markets and allow them to come in
and open the power plant. Enron didn't get that contract for that power
plant. But, I mean, if there's an example of Enron really clearly buying
influence, that one's unsurpassed.
GROSS: So the lobbying in Kuwait that Baker and Mosbacher did, would you say
that's a very typical revolving door kind of position to have from government
to private business or does this seem to you as being something out of the
Mr. BRYCE: I think that example of James A. Baker III going to work for
Enron, you know, less than three months after he comes out of the State
Department is one of the most egregious abuses of the revolving door that I
can recall. Here is a man who is the former secretary of State who played a
key role in the war in Kuwait, in planning strategy and dealing with the
Kuwaitis and dealing with other Arab states, and now, you know, just as
George H.W. Bush goes out of office, he turns around and sells himself as a
lobbyist to a company that wants to profit essentially off of the war. And I
can recall no other example where a secretary of State has been that blatant
in terms of turning around and selling access.
GROSS: Let's get to George W. Bush. Did Enron back George W. Bush in his
campaign for governor of Texas?
Mr. BRYCE: Yes. George W. Bush was a great beneficiary of Enron's money, and
all Enron executives donated a hundred and forty-six thousand five hundred
dollars to George W. Bush's campaign--the executives in the company, whereas
that was about seven times more than they contributed to Ann Richards, who was
the Democratic opponent to George W. and the incumbent.
GROSS: Are there things that Governor Bush did in Texas that directly
Mr. BRYCE: Well, yes. He signed into law a bill deregulating the state's
electricity markets. Now that was something that had been working through the
Texas Legislature for some time, but Enron lobbyists made it clear to me--and
I talk about it in the book--that as they were pushing for electricity
deregulation, they knew that whatever happened, if they got stymied by the
governor's staff and they weren't getting the kind of hearing that they wanted
from the governor's staff, they knew they could always call back to Enron
headquarters in Houston and ask Lay to call the governor, and they could
immediately get through. That was a clear example of where Enron lobbyists
and Enron personnel felt that they had extraordinary access to the governor
that a lot of other corporations in the state clearly did not.
GROSS: During the 1990s, Enron's political contributions kept rising. You
say those contributions quadrupled between 1992 and '96, rising to over 1.1
million in 1996, with about 81 percent of that money going to Republicans. By
the year 2000, the figure more than doubled again to 2.4 million, with 72
percent of that money going to Republicans. Were you in on any
behind-the-scenes discussions at Enron about the value of giving an increasing
amount of money to politicians?
Mr. BRYCE: No, not really. I think in some ways, you could even say that
this was simply that they were identified or they were aligned ideologically,
that the Republicans were pushing a laissez-faire attitude and that that was
clearly what Enron wanted. That was their whole business strategy, was
leave us alone, let us go into these markets, let us open these markets and do
what we will and don't impede us.
GROSS: What kind of contribution did Enron make to George W. Bush's
Mr. BRYCE: Well, the company was a huge funder of the campaign throughout and
was Bush's biggest benefactor. I would argue that one of the key issues,
though, that the company and Lay were able to make was during the Florida
recount. Lay was a big contributor to the Bush campaign during the recount
effort, but moreover, Enron supplied its airplanes to the Bush campaign during
the Florida recount. And remember, in November of 2000, it was unclear who
was going to prevail, whether it was going to be Al Gore or George W. Bush,
and Enron provided its planes, as did, you know, three other Houston energy
firms. Reliant Energy, Anadarko Petroleum and Halliburton all gave their
planes to George W. Bush's campaign, which came at an absolutely critical
time, in order to allow the campaign to move its people from Houston to
Washington to Florida to really manage their ability to--and manage their
whole campaign strategy.
GROSS: Did the Democrats have companies that favored them supplying planes
Mr. BRYCE: None. Al Gore didn't have any of this. Not only did George W.
Bush during the recount out-fund-raise him by about 4:1, Gore didn't have
enough contacts or good enough contacts in the business community to say,
`Hey, I need an airplane to get my guys from Tennessee or from Washington to
Florida.' None of his campaign expense filings or contribution filings have
shown any campaign plane donations similar to what Bush was able to get from
the Houston energy firms.
GROSS: My guest is Robert Bryce. He's written a new book called "Pipe
Dreams: Greed, Ego and the Death of Enron." We'll talk more after a break.
This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: My guest is Robert Bryce, author of a new book about the Enron
scandal called "Pipe Dreams." Bryce is a Texas-based journalist who has
covered Enron's political activities since 1997.
You say that Kenneth Lay recommended a total of 21 people for positions in the
administration of George W. Bush. He only got three of the spots that he
asked for, but these were critically important jobs to Enron. What positions
Mr. BRYCE: The positions that Enron and Ken Lay wanted filled that were
particularly important to them were to the FERC, the Federal Energy Regulatory
Commission. And, in fact, one of the key appointees that Lay was backing was
Pat Wood, who Lay had also backed for the head of the Texas Public Utilities
Commission right after Bush became governor in Texas. But Wood believed in
deregulation of energy markets. He was a strong proponent of Enron's position
generally speaking. And after Bush was elected, Lay wrote him and said, `We
want Pat Wood as the head of the FERC.' And, indeed, that's what happened.
Bush appointed Wood and made him head of the FERC.
And another person that was backed by Enron was Nora Brownell, who was also
put on the FERC board. The third position was Glenn McCullough, who was
appointed to the chairmanship of the Tennessee Valley Authority. This was
just as important from Enron's point of view as the FERC appointments, because
Enron had been involved in a long battle with the TVA over contracts that it
had to supply electricity to the TVA, and it wanted a sympathetic ear there.
And by getting McCullough in that spot, Enron gained a tactical advantage.
GROSS: There were other people in the Bush administration who were connected
to Enron. Do you want to list some of them?
Mr. BRYCE: Well, sure. Tom White, secretary of the Army, is probably the one
who has the deepest Enron ties and also the ones that have been the cause of
the most speculation and most investigation. He was in a key position at
Enron Energy Services. He was the vice chairman there. Enron Energy Services
was touted as Enron as the next big thing. This was going to be the company
that was going to go in, retrofit buildings, save companies money on their
energy bills and make a ton of money in the process. Well, White made tens of
millions of dollars in stock at Enron, and he, you know, has alleged that he
wasn't involved in, did not have any knowledge of the accounting
irregularities that were happening at Enron Energy Services and really
aggressive accounting that was happening at Enron Energy Services, and then he
was appointed to this key position within the Pentagon, where he also
recommended, once he got there, that the Pentagon begin looking at energy
outsourcing of the type that Enron was offering.
GROSS: Now you write that all of this gave Enron unprecedented access to the
White House. Give us an example that you consider to be the most extreme
example of the access that they had.
Mr. BRYCE: Well, I think that in terms of the Bush administration, that
influence was shown in the national energy policy plan that the White House
released last year. This was a document--and the whole process was headed by
Vice President Dick Cheney--and Enron had numerous meetings with Cheney during
the drafting of this document. Ken Lay--investigations have shown that he's
had something like a dozen phone calls either to Karl Rove or to Cheney
himself. He had a personal meeting with Cheney. And there are aspects of
that national energy plan as it came out that were clearly written that
GROSS: Well, Enron hired Wendy Gramm about five weeks after her tenure on the
Commodity Futures Trading Commission, after her position there ended. What
was her work with Enron?
Mr. BRYCE: She served on Enron's board and made tens of thousands of dollars
as a director every year. She also got stock options as an Enron director.
What makes her position at Enron so important was that when she served at the
Commodity Futures Trading Commission, one of her last acts as chairman of that
commission was to push through a proposal that exempted Enron's energy trading
business from any federal oversight. That was critically important, because
when she got that job in early '93, Enron's gas trading business, known as the
Gas Bank, was just starting to take off and the company needed a free hand, it
needed to be assured that federal regulators were not going to step in and
prevent it from doing all the derivative swaps, all the futures contracts that
it was just now beginning to get involved in. So Gramm went from passing
through that regulation at the CFTC to Enron's board in a span of about five
GROSS: Now Wendy Gramm is also married to Senator Phil Gramm, and his
Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000 contained what's been described as
the Enron exemption. What was the Enron exemption?
Mr. BRYCE: Well, the Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000 was
critically important again to Enron because by 2000, the company's commodities
futures and all of its derivatives business was enormous. The Commodity
Futures Modernization Act took the regulation that Wendy Gramm had passed
through at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission in '93 and codified it and
made it into law. And it went a step further. It said that whatever
derivatives or whatever commodity futures are being traded on online
exchanges, like the one that Enron was operating, were completely exempt from
federal oversight and regulation, even if they were designed to be fraudulent.
So here was Gramm, who was married to an Enron board member, had a clear
conflict of interest, was personally benefiting from money because his wife
was being paid tens of thousands of dollars a year--I think she was paid over
a hundred thousand dollars in 2001 by Enron--here was a regulation coming
through the Senate that directly benefited Enron and not only did Phil Gramm
not recuse himself from any involvement in that measure, he sponsored the
GROSS: Robert Bryce is the author of the new book "Pipe Dreams: Greed, Ego
and the Death of Enron." He'll be back in the second half of the show. I'm
Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: Longtime labor leader Andrew Mazouki died on Saturday. Coming up, we
listen back to an interview with him. Also, David Bianculli reviews two
made-for-TV movies that will be shown Sunday. And we continue our
conversation about the Enron scandal with investigative reporter Robert Bryce.
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with Robert Bryce, author of
the new book "Pipe Dreams: Greed, Ego and the Death of Enron." Bryce is a
Texas-based journalist who has covered Enron's political activities since
The Enron investigation is continuing, and one of the aspects of it that has
been in the news in the past few weeks is the charges against Andrew Fastow,
who was the chief financial officer of Enron. And one of the things he's
accused of is creating these--Is fraudulent the right word?--these fraudulent
partnerships that was a way of cooking the books. I'm going to ask you to
explain that. It's much too complicated for me to explain.
Mr. BRYCE: Sure. As Enron grew its business, particularly in the trading
side, it was incurring greater costs. Particularly as it set up the trading
business, it needed more cash. It needed to raise more money throughout its
businesses to fund the new ventures, which included Enron Broadband, Enron
Online, Enron Energy Services. They were huge cash drains on the company's
financials. But Enron couldn't afford to take on more debt, so the company
created a number of off-balance-sheet partnerships. Special-purpose entities
is the accounting term for them. And these SPEs, special-purpose entities,
then were used to essentially hide debt. And Fastow was the mastermind behind
virtually all of these. Some of them involved selling power plants to an SPE
that was connected directly with Fastow and was controlled by Fastow.
So Fastow was--here he was as the Enron CFO. He was collecting a salary from
Enron. He was collecting stock options from Enron. He was collecting a bonus
from Enron based on the company's performance, which of course was exceedingly
good because they didn't have to reflect all these outside debts. And
further, he was making money from all of these off-balance-sheet partnerships.
So, you know, his total pay from all of these deals probably in the last two
to three years of Enron's existence was probably in the neighborhood of 70 to
GROSS: Let's look at another, you know, in quotes, "innovation" that Enron
came up with that is one of the things that led to its downfall. I'm thinking
Mr. BRYCE: Sure.
GROSS: I'm going to ask you to explain what it is, and why this was
innovative within Enron's field.
Mr. BRYCE: Sure. Well, I'll give you the 30-second accounting history before
I get to mark-to-market.
Mr. BRYCE: Accounting has a long history, and it began in the Renaissance in
Italy with an idea that you book your profits all at one time and you have a
dual-sided ledger where you have your debits and your credits. This process
or this method became known as the Italian method. Over the last five
centuries, it became the worldwide standard for accounting. And it was known
as accrual accounting or cost accounting.
Well, in the last few decades, a new method has come to the fore, and it's
used by a lot of trading companies, and it's called mark-to-market accounting.
Now it is not in any way an evil form of accounting. It's not fraudulent.
It's used every day by mutual funds. At the end of every day, a mutual fund
might hold 50 stocks, and at the end of the trading day, the owners of that
mutual fund go through and they count all their stocks, they count the price,
and then they divide that by the number of shares that they have and they come
up with the net asset value of that share of Janus or that share of Fidelity
Magellan or whatever the mutual fund is. That's called marking their assets
to market. They've used the market price that day and said, `OK, well, here's
what all of our shares in GE and Target and General Motors are all worth
Well, Enron took mark-to-market and used it in its trading business to say,
`We have these long trading positions in natural gas or these long trading
positions in electricity and here is what we believe they are worth.' But
what Enron was able to do was abuse that process because for many of the
commodities that they were trading, they might have a gas contract that goes
out 20 years. Well, the New York Mercantile Exchange doesn't post prices for
gas in 2022. It might post gas prices, what they believe they'll be in 2006.
So Enron was able to use those huge, long-dated contracts and say, `Well, we
think gas, instead of being at $3,' which is about the price today, `we think
it'll be trading for $9. Therefore, we believe this contract will be worth a
hundred or $200 million.' They were essentially given a great deal of
leeway in which to say, `This contract is worth whatever we think it is.' And
they did that very aggressively, and they did that throughout their business.
So that was why Enron was able to show extraordinary revenue growth,
extraordinary profit growth from 1997 through 2001 when they went bankrupt
because they were able to use this very elastic kind of pricing mechanism to
say, `Oh, our assets, our contracts that we hold, are worth this much.' In
other words, if it was a 10-year contract to supply electricity to, say,
Wal-Mart, they would sign that contract and take all that revenue into the
current quarter reporting period. And so they would have to yet--then the
following quarter, they'd have to find another contract and yet another to
find new revenue to build that--or to claim that quarter.
GROSS: Some of this is so complicated. You know, I'm wondering what your
mood is having been through this elaborate research and investigation into
Enron's politics and finances, bookkeeping and so on and watching the way they
manipulated the world around them, not to mention all the money that they lost
for their employees and stockholders. You know, what kind of mood do you
emerge from this with?
Mr. BRYCE: Well, I mean, at times it really is depressing because I
interviewed so many people who'd lost their entire life savings. I write
about Cheri Saunders, who is a, you know, very elegant woman who's now working
at the Houston Medical Center, who I encountered at Enron Field shortly after
the company went bankrupt. They had a job fair at Enron Field, which is now
called Minute Maid Park. It's the Houston Astros baseball team stadium. And
she'd lost all of her pension. She'd lost her job. She and her husband were
really living hand to mouth. And she's found another job now, but, you know,
it was people like her that really, you know--it was really heartbreaking to
see their predicaments, that not only did they lose their job, they lost their
And while I think that, you know, I'm depressed about certain parts of the
story, I also yet feel that Enron was not emblematic, necessarily, of American
business; that this is the biggest--it's the worst and it's the most
offensive. But I think that they were still an aberration; that they were so
corrupted from the top down, whether it was in the accounting that they used
or their marital infidelities or what they told the SEC or how they corrupted
the investment bankers, I just don't think that that's the kind of practice
that commonly happens in American business.
I still think and still have faith in the system that it really does work.
And I think that if regulators do what they're supposed to do now, if Congress
does what they're supposed to do, it will give investors more confidence in
the system. But it's going to take a lot more people like Andy Fastow in
handcuffs to bring those people back. And I think that--and investors even
like me that are, you know--have been disillusioned, you know, if there's
enough prosecutions and enough of a really serious effort to reform the
system, then I think everything will be OK.
GROSS: Well, now that Enron, you know, has been exposed and it has gone bust,
what aftereffects do you see of that in Texas?
Mr. BRYCE: Oh, it's--I'm mean in Houston's Energy Alley, it's been
catastrophic. You know, there have been thousands of layoffs. Companies like
El Paso, you know, a year ago was trading--its stock was trading at $50. Now
it's barely above $5, and there's a very serious threat that it will go
bankrupt. Dynegy is on the verge of bankruptcy. It's been on the verge of
bankruptcy for a long time. Williams Companies in Tulsa, another company that
may very well go bankrupt. And its stock is trading under $2.
And then, you know, we're not even getting to the other, smaller companies
that did business with Enron, that are owed money by Enron that will never be
paid. And those losses are in the hundreds of millions of dollars, in
addition to, you know, all the suppliers, the flower companies, the limousine
companies, all these other ones that are Enron's creditors.
GROSS: Enron was very helpful to the administration of George W. Bush.
George W. Bush and people in his administration were very helpful to Enron.
Now that ties to Enron are perceived as damaging and embarrassing, has Bush
and other members of the administration cut their ties to Kenneth Lay?
Mr. BRYCE: Oh, yes. Yeah. No, Ken Lay's become an untouchable for Bush.
And, in fact, I'd argue that, you know, the best thing Bush could do for
himself is to do everything he can to make sure that Ken Lay ends up in
handcuffs, if only to show that those donations, all the contributions, all
the contacts that they had don't matter. And that, you know--were I the
president, I would say, `Gosh, you know, we need to make sure, you know, and
get the investigators on him double quick,' because that would show that Bush
is not showing any favorites in the investigation or prosecution of Enron.
GROSS: You say in your book that you think the culture of Enron is
responsible for a lot of the things that they did wrong and that went wrong
there. What was with the culture of Enron?
Mr. BRYCE: Well, I think that that is the nut of the story, that, yes, Enron
had corrupt books; yes, it had all this off-balance-sheet debt; it had this
aggressive behavior. But all of those were part of a culture that was
actually encouraged inside the company, this idea that we're better, we're
faster, we're smarter, we're more aggressive and we're better-looking than
anybody else. And that culture was ultimately so corrosive that the company
could not overcome it. And that's a problem that I put firmly at the feet of
Ken Lay. Lay was a smart guy, he was a PhD economist, but ultimately he was
not able to manage the company's vision of itself. He could not control the
company's culture, could not act strongly enough to keep people in line and
prevent them from becoming egotistical monsters, which in the end that's what
they became because everybody was making so much money there was this belief
that it would never end.
And that's the key part of the story, I think, that allowed the corruption of
the books. It allowed the creation of these off-balance-sheet deals. And
that blame has to go to Ken Lay.
GROSS: Well, I want to thank you very much for talking with us.
Mr. BRYCE: Thank you.
GROSS: Robert Bryce is the author of the new book "Pipe Dreams: Greed, Ego
and the Death of Enron."
Coming up, we remember labor leader Anthony Mazzocchi. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Interview: Anthony Mazzocchi discusses the founding of the Labor
Party and the working-class movement
TERRY GROSS, host:
Labor leader Anthony Mazzocchi died Saturday at the age of 76 of pancreatic
cancer. From the mid-'60s to the early '90s, he was a leader of the Oil,
Chemical & Atomic Workers Union. He was one of the first union leaders to
work in alliance with the environmental movement, and was one of the forces
behind the passage of OSHA, the Occupational Health and Safety Act. It was
Mazzocchi who convinced Karen Silkwood to talk with a New York Times reporter
about her accusation that she and other workers were being exposed to
radiation at a nuclear fuel rod processing plant in Oklahoma. She died in a
car crash on the way to meet the reporter. Her story was dramatized in a
movie starring Meryl Streep.
Mazzocchi left the union in 1991, disillusioned with the Democratic Party,
which he believed took organized labor for granted. He founded a new party,
the Labor Party. He hoped that the party would reinvigorate the labor
movement. I spoke with Mazzocchi in 1995 when he was planning the founding
Mr. ANTHONY MAZZOCCHI (Founder, Labor Party): We want to become a movement
again. The only gains that people have made in this nation, working people,
have been through movements: civil rights movement, the labor movement, the
environmental movement. Legislation has only been a reaction to the existence
of these movements. What this effort is all about is the re-creation of a new
movement and the rejuvenation of a culture that once existed, a working-class
culture in this country. So part of this task in creating a party, a class
party--we make no bones about it, this is going to be a party of the working
class. We'll break down the nonsense that we're the middle class; we're the
GROSS: You say you want a working-class culture. I'm not sure what `working
class' means anymore. There was a time when working class was understood to
mean people who worked in factories, people who did manual labor. A lot of
those factory jobs don't exist anymore. What does working class mean?
Mr. MAZZOCCHI: Well, that's an ill definition of working class. When I grew
up, working class meant anyone who worked for a wage and wasn't a manager or a
small-business person, whether you're a white-collar or a blue-collar person.
It never was meant to just encompass blue-collar workers. An office clerical
worker is a member of the working class. They work for someone. And that's a
large group of people.
In a culture that existed when I came into this work force, you understood the
value of organization, of unions. You supported unions. In those days, if
you lived in a neighborhood, it was a working-class neighborhood and you
scabbed on a strike, you probably could not come back to that neighborhood.
Scabs had to be imported. People understood the nature of their class, and
they knew the nature of those who were benefiting at their expense. That's
been muddied over recent years due to a whole host of circumstances.
GROSS: I'm interested in how you first got involved in labor. Did your
father work in a union, or your mother?
Mr. MAZZOCCHI: Well, my father was a trade unionist, the Amalgamated Clothing
Workers. He was an immigrant, came here in 1900, was deeply involved in many
labor struggles, was pro-Roosevelt to his core. And I learned about labor
unions around the dinner table during the Depression. I myself became active
in a labor movement when I left the Army at the end of World War II and went
to work in the automobile industry and then ultimately in the chemical
GROSS: What kind of work were you doing in the chemical industry?
Mr. MAZZOCCHI: Oh, just ordinary work of mixing large groups of chemicals,
one to another, not knowing what they were, and mixing them under directions
of someone else, and did various jobs. But I became a union official two or
three years into work and basically worked full-time for the union ever since
GROSS: So when you started working with chemicals, I believe that was in the
Mr. MAZZOCCHI: Yes. Just bulk chemicals, and making a product that looked
GROSS: So when did you start thinking that the vats of chemicals you were
working with might actually be harmful and you wanted to know more about them?
Mr. MAZZOCCHI: Well, I think basically that occurred in the very early '60s
when--in the '50s, I thought most of the problems were in the radioactive
industries because we represented nuclear workers in my own union. But then
when I became legislative director for my union in Washington, I began to hear
complaints from workers all over the country about particular substances in
their workplace. And I saw this as a trend, and what I thought were only
isolated instances of problems, I began to see it as a collective trend, that
no workplace was safe, no one really knew what they worked with and no one
actually measured the amount of toxics that were introduced into the workplace
in any meaningful way. And there weren't any federal laws that addressed
these problems. I mean, the state laws were ridiculous to start with. So
that became the agitation for a national law.
GROSS: You were one of the key people behind the scenes who worked to pass
OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Act, that was signed into effect by
President Nixon in 1970. It set safety standards for workers and provided for
plant inspections and for enforcement. What did you want out of that?
Mr. MAZZOCCHI: We wanted a workplace free of hazard, and the law provides
that. Its fundamental tenet is `The workplace shall be free of all hazard.'
And by the way, you've cited a clear example of why a movement is necessary,
rather than embracing the existing political party. It was under Lyndon
Johnson and the Democrats, we couldn't even get that law out of committee. We
got it out of committee during the Nixon era and got it passed, not because
Nixon was a friend of working people but because people were in motion in
movements, the environmental movement and a reinvigorated labor movement who
came to life around this issue.
GROSS: You know, there's so many different groups that are thought of a third
party, but they've often thought of a third party that would unite a lot of
different groups. You know, the Rainbow Coalition idea, for instance, where
you take a lot of people who felt disenfranchised for one reason or another
and you build a party around them or build a movement around them, you know.
And I think the National Organization for Women has considered this kind of
thing, too. But why start a Labor Party, as opposed to a party that would
have a broader definition?
Mr. MAZZOCCHI: Well, we think a Labor Party is the broadest definition. It's
a class party. It incorporates all the people you're talking about. Look,
the most integrated places in America are workplaces. Those are the most
integrated places. Where do you find the most people of color? You find them
working. You find them as members of unions. Some of the top leadership
doesn't reflect that. But where the people are, that's where you see the
average American, are in workplaces. So we have--our conceptualization is the
broadest conceptualization, incorporating a hell of a lot of people.
Now we have to define what our agenda is, and once it's defined, to work with
others who support this particular movement. And we're not building it around
an individual. We've looked at third-party efforts in this country, and most
of them collapsed after an election. The person that they were supporting did
not receive an appropriate amount of votes; they disappeared the very next
day. We're going beyond that. Someday, we may run people for elective
office, but they will have to grow out of a movement; the movement will have
to define who they are and who they're responsible to.
GROSS: You have held office within the Oil, Chemical & Atomic Workers Union,
and you ran for president a couple of times, narrowly lost. Do you ever find
yourself wishing that you had run for electoral office?
Mr. MAZZOCCHI: Well, I made that mistake one time in 1964. I had the
nomination to run for Congress in Long Island, and I bowed out because the
party felt that, because of my position on nuclear weapons testing--I was
opposed to it--thought I would hurt the party in Long Island. And I withdrew,
and a substitute was introduced for me. Lester Wolf actually went on to be a
congressperson. I'm glad I never chose that route. At one time, I thought I
could do something there, but I realized that that would have been a
comfortable, nonsensical life where I wouldn't have really been able to
impact--had an impact. I think I've been able to do more in the position I've
GROSS: Labor leader Anthony Mazzocchi, recorded in 1995. He died Saturday at
the age of 76 of pancreatic cancer.
Coming up, David Bianculli reviews two made-for-TV movies, one about Jackie
Gleason, the other about school violence. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
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Review: Made-for-TV movies "Gleason" on CBS and "Bang Bang You're
Dead" on Showtime
TERRY GROSS, host:
This Sunday, two very different made-for-TV movies will be presented by two
very different networks. One is a dramatic biography of the comedian Jackie
Gleason, televised by CBS. The other is a drama about school violence,
televised by the pay-cable channel Showtime. TV critic David Bianculli has
reviews of both and a few thoughts about what their differences suggest.
DAVID BIANCULLI reporting:
When TV was young, it was live drama that reached for important themes and
provided some of the most memorable work, stuff like "Marty" by Paddy
Chayefsky and "Patterns" and "Requiem for a Heavyweight" by Rod Serling.
Then, when most TV production moved from New York to Hollywood and from live
to tape, another era began, an era that, beginning in the mid-1970s, could be
called the golden age of telemovies and miniseries. For about a decade, TV
kept doing one ambitious drama after another, from "Roots" and "Holocaust" to
"Masada" and "The Execution of Private Slovik."
But somewhere along the way, miniseries got too expensive and telemovies on TV
became disposable. The good stuff--the thoughtful stories, the historical
memoirs, the big-picture epics--began showing up on cable. Nowadays, when the
Emmy nominations are announced for movies and miniseries, it's rare for a
production from ABC, CBS or NBC to even make the cut. Shows like HBO's "Band
of Brothers" and "The Gathering Storm" have grabbed most of the acclaim and
attention, and deservedly so.
This Sunday, that disparity between television then and now is on display in
two competing telemovies and underscored by their subject matter. "Gleason"
on CBS is a rather mean-spirited biography of the star of the same network's
"The Honeymooners." "Bang Bang You're Dead" on Showtime is a volatile
examination of a hot-button issue: violence and shootings in American high
"Gleason" is most interesting and effective when its star, Brad Garrett, the
tall brother from "Everybody Loves Raymond," is shown bullying his cast and
crew to realize his own comic vision. But some of the details aren't right.
It's implied, for instance, that "The Honeymooners" series was performed live,
but it never was. And though Garrett's performance is good, the script is a
big disappointment. It may explain why some people resented Jackie Gleason,
but it does a lousy job explaining why so many millions of people found him
"Bang Bang You're Dead," on the other hand, is all about explanations and
motivations. William Mastrosimone wrote it as an expanded version of his own
one-act play. And in essence, this drama gets back to the spirit and
intensity of the works by TV's golden age playwrights. In a way, it's doing
now what those live TV dramas did then. It's looking closely at people on the
fringes, people who usually are ignored, and trying to show what makes them
tick. In the case of "Bang Bang You're Dead," the central character, an angry
high schooler played without any excess showiness by Ben Foster, is cast in a
school play. He's playing the part of a kid who kills his parents and shoots
some classmates, a role that a peek at the young actor's private video diary
suggests is very close to home.
(Soundbite of "Bang Bang You're Dead")
Mr. BEN FOSTER: They get off on watching you fighting back the tears, getting
a lump in your throat, blushing, wanting to cry. And they give you a name:
trash can, pizza face, loser, faggot, loser, weirdo, spaz, retard. You know,
and the name does something to you. It changes who you are. It alters your
molecules. And one day you wake up and you look in the mirror and you don't
recognize you anymore because you believe them. And then you lose. You want
to cry, `Please leave me alone,' but nobody's listening because nobody cares
because you don't have a name anymore because they took it away. And then one
day, they say that name and you hear something go snap.
Unidentified Actor: Hey, trash can!
Mr. FOSTER: You realize what you gotta do. You gotta take back your name.
BIANCULLI: "Bang Bang You're Dead" on cable is a topical and, in times,
haunting and powerful telemovie. "Gleason" on CBS is an exercise in nostalgia
that only adds to the suspicion that for the major networks, when it comes to
telemovies and miniseries, these aren't the good old days.
GROSS: David Bianculli is TV critic for The New York Daily News.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.