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Book Critic Maureen Corrigan

Book critic Maureen Corrigan reviews Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage, a collection of short stories by Alice Munro.

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Other segments from the episode on January 17, 2003

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, January 17, 2002: Interview with Kurt Eichenwald; Review of Alice Munro's "Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage."

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DATE January 17, 2002 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Interview: Kurt Eichenwald discusses the collapse of energy giant
Enron
BARBARA BOGEV, host:

This is FRESH AIR. Terry Gross is recovering from laryngitis. I'm Barbara
Bogev.

Enron was founded in 1985 by Kenneth Lay in a merger of two natural gas
pipeline companies. Ten years later, it was the seventh biggest corporation

in
America. In the process, it transformed the nation's energy industry. Now
in
what seems a matter of weeks, Enron has tumbled headlong into bankruptcy,
costing employees and shareholders tens of billions of dollars in losses.
Several federal investigations have begun to look into whether the company
deliberately misled investors, and if its legal and auditing firms colluded
in
the process.

The story of Enron's failure has also focused a spotlight on the company's
close connections to many members of Congress and the Bush administration.
Stories about Enron have been all over the news recently, so I asked my
guest,
New York Times investigative reporter Kurt Eichenwald, what makes this more
than just another example of a big company going bankrupt?

Mr. KURT EICHENWALD (The New York Times): Enron veers into a slightly
different world. There have been large collapses in the past of companies,
companies like Drexel Burnham Lambert, which went under in 1990, or
Long-Term
Capital Management, which almost went under but was ultimately bailed out.
But in this instance what you have is probably the most dramatic turnaround
certainly that I've ever witnessed. You had a company that, at the
beginning
of the year, was being--you know, the competitors were envious of the fact
that this was a company that was so tight with the Bush administration.
They
were attending the inaugural. They were financing the parties at the
inaugural. They were in Washington. Their power and their influence were
the
things of fear. People talked about how they controlled FERC, the Federal
Energy Regulatory Commission. And ultimately, the story on Enron, which was
already being told, seemed to be that this was going to be a company whose
power needed to be watched, because it had the potential of abusing it and
it
had the potential of misusing it. It had been involved in the whole
California energy crisis as the chief villain.

And so when you have a company that is already getting onto the radar screen
in a very prominent way as a company of such great power, of such great
influence, and then you wake up one morning and it's gone, it just
transforms
the world. And it's a corporate collapse unparalleled from any other.

And then there's one more element. I write a lot about corporate crime,
corporate corruption and corporate bankruptcies, and in this instance,
unlike
many of the others, it's not arguable about whether or not there are victims
here. You know, in many of the previous cases the victims were things like
`the market,' or, you know, Wall Street traders or other high-level
concepts,
or people you don't feel too sorry for. In this one, you have thousands on
thousands of employees who, very painfully, have lost not only their
retirement savings, but also all of their security, sort of `Where do they
go
from here?' And so that combination of two things, real victims and the
most
dramatic turnaround I've ever seen, just has propelled this to a major
corporate scandal.

BOGEV: I'd like you to help us understand the arc of Enron's collapse. And
you write that Enron was a driving force behind a radical shift in the
nation's energy policy, and that was a large part of its significance.
Enron
pioneered the trading of energy on the open market. Could you explain just
how radical a departure this was from the way the energy business
traditionally had been run?

Mr. EICHENWALD: Well, what Enron intended to do was to create a consistent
supply at a consistent price. It was a mechanism that had been used for
other
commodities. And they intended to essentially get over all the peaks and
valleys in pricing that were found in the energy business by committing to
the
delivery of energy through the trading mechanism and then trading it again
and
again and again and again, each time hopefully capturing a little bit more
in
profit.

They were able to essentially provide a more reliable supply of energy at a
more reliable, predictable price. At the same time, they played a big role
in
Washington in terms of pushing forward deregulation of areas in the energy
field. For example, gas pipelines had been very heavily regulated in the
past, and Enron was a chief advocate, and was very successful in getting
pipelines deregulated so that more than one competitor, more than one group,
could use a pipeline owned by a particular individual, or particular
company.

BOGEV: So how did Enron wield its influence on the federal government to
help
build this empire, to deregulate the markets?

Mr. EICHENWALD: Largely by keeping up the pressure, largely by knowing that
power is found not on the sexy side of Washington, but in areas like FERC,
the
Energy Regulatory Commission, in areas where, you know, their business is
affected. And they were trying to obtain things like, you know, a
federalized
electric grid, which right now, in electricity, is regulated on a
state-by-state basis. That creates all sorts of difficulties for those who
want to be involved in massive electric trading, which is one of the things
that Enron was involved in.

And so they would try, and they were having some great deal of success in
terms of pushing forward the concept of a federalized electric grid. I
mean,
if you think about it, that's--you know, in the old days we would talk about
states' rights, and that's the kind of thing people are fairly comfortable
with, having local regulation of their electricity grid, of their power
grid.
And when Enron was coming forward with this idea, it was the Republicans in
Washington who were advocating it, which is sort of a sign of how much
influence Enron had.

To a degree, people in Washington respond to success. They respond to
success and they respond to campaign contributions. Enron had transformed
this market over the course of 10 years, and had gone from pretty much of a
nothing to one of the largest corporations in America. That gives you the
ability to say, `Hey, we know what we're doing. You should listen to us.
You
are just a bureaucrat. You should listen to us.' And that may or may not
have worked with the regulators; it certainly did work with the politicians.

BOGEV: Now Enron was, at least at first, fabulously successful. By 1995,
they'd become the biggest player in the natural gas business. They
controlled
one-fifth of the North American market. Where did the problem start? What
went wrong?

Mr. EICHENWALD: What went wrong--it's funny, it's sort of the same thing
I've
seen again and again with corporations. They're successful at one thing,
they're successful in one area, and they see their stock price go up and
they
conclude that they're geniuses. The folks at Enron were very open about
talking about how smart they were, and they were ultimately--despite all of
their objections to this description, they were ultimately a trading
company.

Where the problems came in is that they decided to build themselves up into
certain hard-asset businesses, which was very strange, because at the same
time, they were saying asset businesses are not the way to go. But they
tried
to become, for example, the world's largest water company, and that was all
a
series of hard assets. They tried to go into broadband business. This was
going to be their future, broadband trading. They built plants; they had a
plant in India, they had a plant in Brazil. And one person described it to
me
that, you know, in trading they had the golden touch, but when it came to
their asset plays, everything they touched turned to mud. That tied up
about
$12 billion of the company's capital in very poor producing assets.

Now if you think about it, if people knew how bad that was, Enron would have
been paying a price in the market much, much earlier. And so these folks
came
up with a very simple idea: If the assets aren't working, take them off the
books. And that's where the problem gets started.

BOGEV: Kurt Eichenwald is a senior writer for The New York Times. He's
been
covering the investigation into the downfall of the Enron Corporation.
Kurt,
we'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

BOGEV: Back with New York Times reporter Kurt Eichenwald. He's been
covering
the Enron corporate scandal for the paper. Enron used limited partnerships
to
hide assets and these massive debts, to inflate the revenues and make the
company look as if it was in better shape than it really was to keep up
investor confidence. Explain to us what the problem with it was. And are
we
talking about an illegal practice, or a very gray area?

Mr. EICHENWALD: I'll start off with the part that's the most frightening.
What you just described is legal. Now that doesn't mean that these folks
didn't commit crimes. But that you just described is legal, and it
certainly
should raise a question in the minds of listeners, investors and the rest
about what do we really know about corporations that can engage in these
transactions. What Enron did in setting up these limited partnerships was
essentially set up a dump site. They set up a place where things on their
books that were unattractive could go. And so they would have these
transactions with the partnerships that arguably--and they maintained this
for
quite some time internally; a lot of people didn't know about the existence
of
the partnerships--that arguably were not part of Enron, but were a separate
entity. So therefore, if I took my lousy assets or my debts and shifted it
into this unrelated related entity, I no longer had to report it on my
books.

The result of that--now it was--while legal, it was a farce. You would have
Enron controlling 49 percent of a partnership, you would have the other 51
percent controlled by someone--an offshore law firm, for instance--that was
working for Enron. And ultimately Enron executives controlled the
transactions of the partnerships; Enron executives controlled the other side
of it. All of the decisions were being made for the benefit--well,
hopefully
for the benefit of Enron. And so in the end, these partnerships were acting
as a portion of the company. Now that's where the problem comes in, because
by moving the asset off the books and putting them into these entities and
then pretending they don't exist, Enron set itself up for catastrophe.

Ultimately, the partnerships were determined to in fact be related entities
to Enron, and entities that had to be reported. And so once you folded them
back in, you now had all of this stuff that was in these partnerships, all
the
things that had been placed there, back in the company. And suddenly the
reporting of the company has to be restated going back to 1997. You have
shareholders' equity wiped out to the tune of $1.2 billion. And the image
of
the company that then exists is not what folks have thought it was over the
past few years.

BOGEV: Aren't there generally corporate processes and mechanisms and
institutions in place that catch these irregularities, that point these
problems out before the thing spins out of control, which it seems to have
in
this case.

Mr. EICHENWALD: The one thing that I have noticed time and again--because,
you know, basically what I write about is corporate scandal, and what I've
noticed time and again is you have the same underlying themes in almost
every
scandal. One is a group of executives who believe they are changing the
world; a level of arrogance and a level of greed that you don't see in other
corporations; and then the third, and probably the most significant, is a
lack
of adequate compliance procedures. You don't have people with teeth who are
there for the purpose of making sure that everything is done not only to the
letter but to the nth degree of how it should be done.

In this situation, you had something--I was talking to the head of internal
audit at a major corporation the other day, and he was just going on and on
about he's never heard of anything like what Enron was doing. Enron had an
outside auditor, Arthur Andersen, who we've been hearing about quite a bit
recently--and then Enron had its own internal audit function. Now internal
audit is usually handled by a division of the company called internal audit,
and the idea is to serve as a check. You've got two audits, an internal
audit, an external audit, and everybody's making sure everything's done
correctly. In this instance, internal audit was done by Arthur Andersen.
It
was contracted out to Arthur Andersen, to Andersen Consulting, and as a
result, you have effectively the same firm handling internal and external
audit. And when you go through the company's filings, and they have
meetings
of the board of directors, of the audit committee meeting with the head of
internal audit, well, they don't meet with the head of internal audit. They
meet with the person who's in charge of the contract for dealing with the
internal auditors who are coming from outside.

This might sound like hairsplitting, it might sound like, `Oh, well, who
really cares about these things?' But it's one of the key checks and
balances. It's one of the things that you have to have to prevent a
corporation from going off the tracks. You know, there is nothing wrong
with
a company being aggressive. There's nothing wrong with a company rewarding
its employees. There's nothing wrong with a company trying to change the
world, if they can actually do it. But if you're going to do that, the one
thing that every corporation has to understand is that they have got to have
very strong, empowered compliance officers, because it is too easy to go off
the tracks, and companies do it again and again. Enron went off the tracks
into the ocean and over to the other side of the country.

BOGEV: What happened in the end that Wall Street started looking into these
limited partnerships, that they came to the light of day?

Mr. EICHENWALD: There were several drumbeats that proceeded the ultimate
run
on Enron. The chief executive of the company, Jeffrey Skilling, announced
in
August that he was leaving, just a matter of months after he was put in.
That
started people wondering, `Well, you know, why would somebody get the brass
ring and then leave?' You see that in instances where there's a problem.
Now
Skilling has maintained that his decision was purely personal, but that
didn't
stop people from wondering, and the questions started being asked. Enron
had
consolidated the partnerships into the company, and once they consolidated
the
partnerships into the company, all of the problems that existed became
evident. On October 16th of 2001, Enron announced that they expected to
lose
something like 600 some odd million dollars in the third quarter, but more
importantly, that $1.2 billion in shareholders' equity had been wiped out,
and
that had happened because of the consolidation.

Enron had been secretive and--I wouldn't use this as a legal term, just as a
man-on-the-street term--deceptive for many years. People could not quite
figure out how the company made its money. And so now you had a company, in
a
massive crisis of confidence, because people are wondering what is really
happening, that could not get a single story out quickly. They tried to do
a
deal with Dynegy, a competitor, a merger deal, and ultimately that fell
apart
because Dynegy couldn't figure out the company's finances, couldn't figure
out
what was going on. (Technical difficulties) everything were collapsing.
The
financial condition was deteriorating. The credit rating agencies were
downgrading the debt. And you had traders at other firms saying, `If I
engage
in a trade with Enron, ultimately am I going to get my money?' And so
traders
starting backing away from trading with the company. That was it. That was
death. There was nothing they could do to get around that. And so by that
point, Enron was in a death spiral that it couldn't get out of.

BOGEV: Kurt Eichenwald (technical difficulties) called "The Informant: A
True Story." We'll continue our conversation with Kurt Eichenwald in the
second half of the show. I'm Barbara Bogev, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

BOGEV: Coming up, more on the collapse of energy giant Enron Corporation.
We
continue our conversation with journalist Kurt Eichenwald. He's been
covering
the story for The New York Times. And book critic Maureen Corrigan reviews
a
new collection of short stories by Alice Munro.

(Soundbite of music)

BOGAEV: This is FRESH AIR. Terry Gross is out sick; I'm Barbara Bogaev.

Let's continue now our interview with investigative reporter Kurt
Eichenwald.
He's been covering the Enron Corporation's collapse for The New York Times.
Eichenwald is also the author of "The Informant," a true story about
corporate
crime at ADM.

Help us understand how Arthur Andersen, the accounting firm in charge of
auditing the Enron books, fits into this scandal. We've been hearing a lot
about them in the news. Last week, they disclosed that employees had
destroyed many documents related to the audits, and this week, they fired
the
partner in charge of the Enron account. What do all of these developments
add
up to, and what do they tell us about their involvement in any possible
fraud?

Mr. EICHENWALD: Andersen is so deep in the Enron case that they are, in
fact,
at this point, certain to be a subject of a criminal investigation. You
have--Enron is, because of the strange way it functioned--again, you had
Arthur Andersen serving in the internal and external audit functions. You
have a number of Enron employees in significant positions having worked for
Arthur Andersen, and there was certainly a revolving door between Andersen
and
Enron. So you now have this very, very close relationship.

Andersen was fully apprised of what was going on in the partnerships. Well,
Andersen maintained, at certain points, that it was fully apprised of what
was
going on in the partnerships, and later said that it was being deceived.
You
had the Houston (technical difficulties) the partnerships being relayed up
to
the Chicago office, the main office of Arthur Andersen, and so they were
very,
very deep in all of this. Now they very well may have been able to step
aside. You know, again, we don't know yet what the documents are going to
show. But they very well may have been able to maintain, you know, `We had
no
knowledge of any impropriety, and we did the auditing function correctly,'
and
just do everything that all the auditors who find themselves in this
situation
do.

Then came the documents destruction. This week, they did announce that they
were firing the partner in charge of the Enron assignment and that he had
effectively ordered up a shredding party. And the timing of that was
disastrous. The timing of that, you know, had he been doing it at a point
when, `Gee, I'm just clearing out my books,' well, maybe. But according to
the Andersen statement that came out this week, this started on a huge scale
after Enron was contacted by the Securities and Exchange Commission and
asked
for documents pertaining to the partnerships. Supposedly, Andersen says it
was something like the next day. And this partner in charge of the account
had a meeting where he said, `We're having, you know, expedited destruction
of
documents,' and people were sent out to delete e-mails, to get rid of files,
to shred records.

Enron itself was subpoenaed--not just a request for documents, which raises
the level a little bit--was subpoenaed a couple of weeks later by the SEC.
And the next day, an e-mail went out from the secretaries involved in the
shredding, saying, `Stop the shredding.' This is just a devastating fact
pattern. This information is really extremely bad.

BOGAEV: Political influence is such a large part of this Enron story. I'd
like you to lay out the ties that Kenneth Lay, the chairman of Enron, and
the
Enron Corporation had both to Bush Sr. and George W. Bush.

Mr. EICHENWALD: Well, Enron's connections into the political world began
because they had something they wanted. And ultimately, that was the energy
deregulation. To get that done, beginning in the early 1990s, they hired
lots
of lobbyists and sent lots of campaign contributions to Democrats and
Republicans on Capitol Hill. And when it came time to create, you know,
really deep financial bonds with presidential candidates, it was the Bushes
who ended up being the main recipients of that friendship and largesse.

Ken Lay was a top contributor for Bush, and in 1992, he was chairman of the
Republican National Convention, which nominated Bush Sr. for president. And
when Bush Jr., when George W. came along, he had already established himself
as a friend of his when he served as the Texas governor. When he ran for
president, Mr. Lay was one of 214 folks called Pioneers, who raised a
hundred
thousand dollars for the presidential campaign. And in addition, Lay was an
adviser to Bush during the transition period when there was all that concern
about who was actually going to be the president. So, you know, this is a
man
who has very close ties to the former president, the current president and
many people in Washington. I mean, if you look at all the people who are
stepping down in the Enron investigation because of potential conflicts, I
mean, that gives you a very good sense of how connected this company and
these
individuals were.

BOGAEV: You're referring to Attorney General John Ashcroft...

Mr. EICHENWALD: I am referring...

BOGAEV: ...who's recused himself from the investigation because of...

Mr. EICHENWALD: I'm referring to everybody in this. You've had just quite
a
number of people raising concerns about, `Well, you know, should so-and-so
be
involved? And should I be involved?' And so, I mean, this is a company
that
just had very, very deep fingers into Washington.

BOGAEV: Did Enron work both sides of the fence? Did they cultivate
Democrats

also?

Mr. EICHENWALD: Yes. I mean, it really doesn't work as a corporation to
just
go after one side. I mean, they clearly favored the Republicans, but they
had
a number of contacts and a number of close relationships with the Democrats
as
well.

BOGAEV: So how unusual is this, though? All large corporations have
cultivated political ties. They hire lobbyists. How is the Enron story
anything other than business as usual in Washington?

Mr. EICHENWALD: Mainly by scale. I mean, it's the scale of what they were
doing and what they were able to accomplish. They had goals. They were
able
to achieve a lot of those goals. And the next level is the level, the
degree
of friendship that Ken Lay had with the president. That is a bit unusual.
There are plenty of corporations that give plenty of money and don't have,
you
know, a first-name basis friendship with the president of the United States.

BOGAEV: Do you see this shaping up as a political scandal for the
president?

Mr. EICHENWALD: There's nothing I have seen yet to indicate that this is
going to become a presidential scandal. Now one major caveat to that, I
have
no idea. I don't know where this is going to go and what ultimately is
going
to be proven. But at this point, what you have is the administration was
contacted about a corporation that was going under, that was run by a series
of very close friends. And the corporation was allowed to go under. But
had
there been actions taken that were favorable towards Enron, well, then there
would be people who would have questions to answer. But again, I have to
emphasize, there's a lot of information that isn't known. A lot of the
details of the partnerships--the partnerships have many, many investors,
including high-net-worth individuals. We don't know who those people are
yet.
We don't know where ultimately these pieces are going to all fit together.

BOGAEV: New York Times reporter Kurt Eichenwald. We'll continue our
conversation about Enron after this short break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

BOGAEV: Back with reporter Kurt Eichenwald. He's been covering the Enron
story for The New York Times.

I think it's very hard in following this story to understand at what point
unethical behavior wanders across the line into fraud. For instance, it
came
out this fall that while many employees of Enron lost their life savings
when
the company's stock crashed, many executives cashed out millions before it
was
too late, including chairman Kenneth Lay. He sold $40 million worth of
stock
between I think January and August last year and then, at that point, sent
out
a memo to his employees that reassured them about the future of the company
and instituted a policy which prohibited them from cashing out their company
stocks. What determines at what point these activities cross that line from
unethical to out-and-out criminally fraudulent?

Mr. EICHENWALD: Well, one thing is they didn't establish a policy that

prevented people from selling. What happened is they'd changed the manager
of
the 401(k) plan, and by doing that, there was a period of time in which the
folks in the 401(k) plan couldn't sell. Now, of course, the question is,
well, you know, when did they decide to do that? And that was one of my
earliest questions. And it ends up they decided to do that months before.
So
ultimately, again, there may be something more there, but at this point,
that's what we know.

What establishes fraud on all the other areas is a very murky concept.
Intent--what did they know and what were they intending to do? If the folks
who were selling shares, for instance, at Enron sold the shares and made the
money, there's nothing wrong with it. If they knew that this company was
coming apart--and certainly, I don't think they expected it was going to
collapse--but if they had reason to believe, based on material non-public
information, that this company was going to have some serious problems with
its stock going forward and then they sold, that's a crime. So you can have
the exact same behaviors, and in one instance, it's not a crime and
potentially not even unethical. And in another instance, they're going to
jail. That's why these kinds of investigations are so hard. You have to
establish what did they know, when did they know it, and why did they do
what
they did?

BOGAEV: Is anyone likely to see jail time in this? How do these
white-collar
corporate investigations usually play out?

Mr. EICHENWALD: I've never seen a white-collar case that has reached this
level of magnitude, this level of investigation where somebody didn't go to
jail. I think right now, the main thing for an investigation is the
government is going to be going out, trying to find those people at Enron
who
have bits and pieces of information that can help them, you know, the folks
who have no main stake in any criminal outcome, but are willing to
cooperate.
They are also simultaneously going to be putting the (technical
difficulties)
who are subjects or potential targets of the criminal investigation. And
the
main goal with them is first one in the door gets the deal. You know, flip,
cooperate, and you get a deal. If you don't and someone else does, you're
the
target.

It's a real race to the courthouse. And really, what you've got is, you
know,
right now, it's not really clear where the government's going with the
investigation. The criminal side of it is clearly just getting started.
But
as it picks up steam, it's going to be who cuts a deal first? And that's
really the big thing we need to be looking for, is somebody going in to
plead
guilty to what would then be called a criminal information, which is part of
a
plea deal.

BOGAEV: Do you see any longer-term (technical difficulties) of rules
governing retirement plans since thousands of Enron employee retirement
accounts have been wiped out in this debacle or a return to tighter
regulation
of the energy business?

Mr. EICHENWALD: Every time I see one of these scandals--you know, at the
beginning, I thought, `Well, now all the rules are going to change.' And,
you
know, the rules are changed a little bit here and there, but there never
seems
to be a major overhaul. In this one, I do think the highest likelihood for
change is in the 401(k) area, because you do have so many people who lost
money and who weren't able to do anything about it, and that just, you know,
strikes everybody as just not right. (technical difficulties) lots of
calls,
lots of saber rattling, but I don't know if it's going to last to the point
of
actual legislation.

This is a time where people need to stand back and look at what happened,
figure it out and figure out what the solutions could be. I hope that's
what
people do. Too often in the corporate scandals that I've seen, you know,
the
band moves on, and there are a few changes that are made, and then, you
know,
someday later, another scandal emerges, another corporation gets involved in
it, and the hullabaloo starts all over again.

BOGAEV: I'm talking with Kurt Eichenwald. He's a senior writer at The New
York Times. He's been covering the (technical difficulties) on another
investigation into a corporate meltdown in a series of articles on
Columbia/HCA Healthcare, and this company happened also to be founded by a
major supporter of George W. Bush, Richard (technical difficulties) happened
to have been a company that transformed or reinvented a market; in their
case, the HMO business. Do you see parallels between these two stories that
you've covered or a thread running through these two tales of corporate
scandal and bust?

Mr. EICHENWALD: Absolutely. I mean, it's interesting. It's not just
Columbia, but in virtually every corporate scandal I've covered--ADM,
Prudential, Drexel, going back--the same themes always emerge. And it's the
themes that you have a corporation where there is virtually a cult of
support,
a cult of arrogance, I want to say, where the people at the top truly have
this almost messianic sense of their abilities. And, you know, again, there
are companies that are like that, and it's fine, as long as they then say,
`We
need to be careful.' But in each of these companies, compliance and, you
know, all the things you need in place to follow the rules were just thrown
into the backseat or thrown out of the car completely. And everything ran
off
of, `Well, we're smart, we're good, we can handle it, we know what we're
doing, and we need to get the stock price up 20 percent.'

And, you know, ultimately, if you have that kind of mentality, you know,
crooks don't wear ID cards. They don't announce themselves when they walk
in
the door. But they congregate to places like that, you know, fast money,
big
business, lots of power, very little oversight. And ultimately, if you
don't
have somebody there saying `No,' if you don't have a wise person to go along
with all the smart people, they're going to veer off the tracks. They're
going to end up in a scandal. You know, it's very rare. It's only been
once
where I've ever seen a corporate scandal that occurred because, you know,
senior executives were sitting in a seat saying, `Go commit a crime.'
Almost
every other time, it's just been this culture that has been created that
allows for people to pretty much do whatever they want, and in the end,
drive
the company into a very serious circumstance.

BOGAEV: Does it make it easier to perpetuate this culture of arrogance and
secrecy when you're dealing in a market that you are reinventing? Everyone
can pass the buck because they think, `Well, no one's ever really done this
before and no one really knows how this is supposed to work, so I suppose
this
is OK.'

Mr. EICHENWALD: Oh, absolutely. I mean, it's not so much, `Gee, nobody
understands it, so maybe this is OK. We're kind of an uncharted ground.'
It's more, `We are changing the world. Don't stop us. You know, you who
are
raising questions simply don't understand.' You know, `You don't
understand'
is a phrase that has emerged in every single one of these cases where you
would see people raising warning signals, raising flags early on, and the
response of senior management is, `You don't understand.' Columbia believed
that they were changing the health-care world. Columbia believed that
hospitals were going to be completely changed and that the not-for-profit
hospital system that exists in this country was, you know, archaic and in
need
of being replaced. And there are certainly problems with it, but Columbia
came in with this cult of personality built around its chairman, a fellow
named Richard Scott, and it's messianic belief of its destiny. There was
not
quite the cult of personality at Enron, but there was this sense of
messianic
destiny. There was this level of arrogance, and these same things just, you
know, emerge again and again, and they have to be controlled, because
ultimately, if you (technical difficulties) old world or are trying to stop
inevitable change, then what in the world slows you down? What in the world
keeps you from making the mistakes, or the crimes, that in the end blow up
corporations and cause many people to lose their jobs?

BOGAEV: Kurt Eichenwald, I want to thank you so (technical difficulties)
Times reporter, Kurt Eichenwald. He's the author of a book about another
tale
of corporate crime at Archer Daniels Midland, called "The Informant: A True
Story."

Coming up, a review of a new collection of short stories from Alice Munro.
This is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: Alice Munro's latest short story collection, "Hateship,
Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage"
BARBARA BOGAEV, host:

The title of Alice Munro's latest short story collection, "Hateship,
Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage," comes from a child's rhyme about
women's romantic fates. Book critic Maureen Corrigan says (technical
difficulties)

MAUREEN CORRIGAN:

(Technical difficulties) of literature is that after you read it, you can't
shake it off. Well, then, Alice Munro's latest short story collection is
surely one superb work of literature. Ever since reading "Hateship,
Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage," as this collection is called,
I've
been going about my daily routine haunted by the voices and gruff humor and
sad histories of Munro's characters, mostly working-class Canadians circa
1950
or so.

That may sound more like a curse than a gift. After all, stereotypically,
Canada of the 1950s suggests dullness squared. But then, think of the
literary gold that James Joyce extracted out of gray and dirty Dublin almost
a
century ago. Munro, too, catches the glint of something precious within the
drab, without her writing ever sounding precious. That's a move only the
masters of language can pull off.

There are nine stories in this collection, and the beset of them, like the
title story, unexpectedly fan out, so that you find your attention shifting
from the main characters, mostly all women, to the shadowy minor figures
with
whom their lives crucially intersect. In the short story, "Hateship,
Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage," a youngish old-maid housekeeper
named Johanna powders her underarms, puts on clean underwear and resolutely
pushes open the door of her town's one and only exclusive dress shop. She
winds up buying a brown wool dress, and much to her own surprise, she tells
the nosy shop owner that `It'll likely be what I get married in.' While
we're
still mulling over that revelation--so far in the story no groom has
appeared,
and Johanna herself is a brusque creature who doesn't inspire much readerly
affection--Munro steers us over to the limited prospect of the dress store
owner's life, and then, just as gently, over to look at the life of the
restless teen-aged girl whose cruel prank is responsible for Johanna's
pie-in-the-sky dreams and for her eventual good fortune. `It'll likely be
what I get married in.' That's the colloquial phrase Johanna utters that
perfectly conveys her bluff assurance and her hesitance.

Or listen to these words, voiced by a character in the lesser, but still
evocative, story called "Floating Bridge": `"We got the air conditioning,"'
he proudly assures a visitor.' I can't verify that mid-20th-century
working-class Canadians really talked this way, but I know people who still
talk this way. The dialogue in these stories sounds vividly authentic, and
Munro is just as astute at analyzing certain ways of talking as she is at
rendering them.

Here's how she describes a large family's holiday dinner conversations, in
an
ultimately harrowing story called "Family Furnishings": `There was hardly
any
idea of a general conversation, and in fact, there was a feeling that
conversation that passed beyond certain understood limits might be a
disruption, a showing off. The people at that table were quite capable of

talk. Washing and drying the dishes in the kitchen, the aunts would talk
about who had a tumor, a septic throat, a bad mess of boils. Mention of
intimate bodily matters seemed never to be so out of place, or suspect, as
the
mention of something read in a magazine or an item in the news.'

Tone may be one of the most elusive literary qualities to nail down right.
If
condescension or sentimentality or, God forbid, bathos, seeped into these
stories, they would be a collective disaster. But when a character in the
vivid story (technical difficulties) in the moment, and in a sort of
reasonable facade of life, all you hear in terms of tone is a down-to-earth
frankness, a sense that Munro is granting that character the full grace of
his
limitations. Whatever Munro's limitations are as a writer, they're not
showing in this wonderful collection.

BOGAEV: Maureen Corrigan teaches literature at Georgetown University. She
reviewed "Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage," a new short
story collection by Alice Munro.

(Credits)

BOGAEV: For Terry Gross, I'm Barbara Bogaev.
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.

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