The papers knew about Dubya's deals in 2000. Strangely, they kept quiet
by Harold Evans The Guardian The Observer 7/14/2002
The crimes of the capitalist pigs - the old Marxist rhetoric may be exhumed for the occasion - are a running serial these days in the US. Book cooking has consumed more energy than bookkeeping. The most notorious scandals have been exposed in sectors freed from regulation in the Nineties.
Last week another candidate for obloquy emerged, the Harken Energy Corporation, and along with it one of its directors and consultants from 1986 to 1990, GW Bush. This is the very same GW Bush who told several hundred business leaders last Tuesday, as their President, that he was determined to jail any of them caught with a hand in the cookie jar.
Why the activities of oilman Bush in the Eighties and Nineties should be headlines now is a mystery. He made his fortune in business by flouting securities laws and finding protection among his father's friends. He was unable or unwilling to give details of this last week, except in ways that added to the confusion. The real mystery, important in a democracy, is one memorialised by Sherlock Holmes. The dog in Dartmoor mystery Silver Blaze, you will recall, did nothing in the night; and that was the curious incident.
The curious incident now is why the people's watchdog press didn't bark when new, unflattering evidence emerged just before the 2000 presidential election. This is not a question the press itself is bothering to probe, which at least demonstrates a consistent talent for inertia.
The sequence of events is telling. When Bush sold his Harken stock in June 1990, he did not report the sale to the US Securities and Exchange Commission, as required by law. He was eight months late.
The requirement should alert the SEC to the possibility of insider knowledge. And delay conceals from investors information about the faith the company's leaders have in their enterprise - information that can move markets. Bush's sale, when it eventually was reported, aroused the SEC's curiosity because he unloaded more than 200,000 Harken shares for $850,000 just before it cratered.
The SEC, whose inquiry took place while his father was President, did not press any charges; nor did it specifically exonerate Bush Junior.
But that was then. In October 2000, when candidate Bush was saying he would run the White House like a business corporation, a more thorough investigation was carried out, this time by journalists. Bill Minutaglio and Nancy Beiles, with Knut Royce of the the Center for Public Integrity, had their scoop published in Talk magazine, edited then by my wife, Tina Brown. They made a series of discoveries. One, that Bush had also been late in reporting four transactions involving Harken stock while he was a director.
Two, Bush himself was never interviewed by the SEC - a 'very strange' fact, according to one Republican SEC investigator. And the general counsel of the SEC then was James Doty, who represented Bush in his purchase of the Texas Rangers baseball team. Three, that Bush and his fellow Harken directors made a series of manoeuvres that can now be seen to be a mirror image of the scandalous practices of their friends at the disgraced Enron.
Fearing to report losses in 1989, Harken sold 80 per cent of one of its own subsidiaries, Aloha Petroleum, to a partnership of Harken insiders at an inflated price, a transaction that masked the losses, and pushed up the stock price, whereupon they sold their personal stakes.
The following February the SEC ordered Harken to amend its annual report, declaring 1989 losses of $12.5m - by which time Bush had sold most of his shares.
All this, and more, was fissile material in the run-up to the 2000 election. Astonishingly, it was ignored. The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal and all the big TV and radio shows, except Tom Brokaw on NBC, failed even to report the Harken revelations, about which they are now making a fuss.
Why? Three reasons.
First, the election reporters got themselves trapped in a narrative that was resistant to fact: Gore was a a poseur, and Bush was an amiable Forrest Gump. No fact that did not fit the preconceived pattern saw ink or breathed air.
Second, they were vulnerable to spin when the Republicans found material to keep the stereotypes going.
Third, there was outright prejudice against Clinton and Gore. It was described a few weeks later by Eric Alderman of MSNBC: 'Where is the New York Times' famed Whitewater reporter, Jeff Gerth? Where's the Washington Post special investigations unit? Where is the scandal-mongering Matt Drudge.'
Bush has changed his story about the late filings. Then, he said the SEC must have lost the papers. Now, he blames his own lawyers.
None of the news organisations that failed the public in 2000 has fessed up. The New York Times murmured that there had been some vague mention of this in 2000. The Wall Street Journal grossly misrepresented its own negligence, referring only to one late filing and claiming it did report what it signally did not.
The general theme on the Right is that anyway it is all the fault of the bad example set by you-know-who. That blow job, you must believe, entirely destroyed the moral fibre of a generation of American businessmen.
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