If it hadn’t set the stage for the global distrust for business, CEOs and public relations “management;” 24 Hours would read more like a made-for-television script. The reporters/authors follow in the footsteps of other good journalists thrust into greatness such as Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of the Washington Post (Watergate) and John Markoff of the New York Times (Cyberpunk and Takedown).
Why should public relations people care about reading a book about what “they” did? Well like it or not, we are “they!”
“You Must Not Blame the Mirror…”
Certainly the reporting and subsequent book are about the larceny and corrupt acts of an isolated few executives but public relations people somewhere along the line helped “manage” the cover-up activities and communications with the media. 24 Hours should make each of us take a long, hard, serious look at our professional responsibilities and loyalties.
Why was the whistleblower ultimately an accounting person? For that matter can you recall one instance of whistleblowing that was initiated by a public relations professional (or beginner)?
A Call for Business Morality and Professional Ethics
The book is a good chronicle of how ordinary individuals played fast and loose with their responsibilities to their company and their stakeholders. At first we all thought Enron was an isolated case of executives run amuck. However the greed theme has been visited again and again since the company’s collapse tainting firms large and small and taking down otherwise respected executives. These have been professionals who have seemingly had a complete disregard almost disdain for their responsibilities to employees, shareholders, business partners and customers.
Enron’s problems didn’t suddenly develop over night and they weren’t isolated to just the executive suite. They were carried out by accounting personnel, traders, PR executives/writers and even secretaries. They were overlooked by outside accountants, business partners and governmental agencies.
Smith and Emshwiller show that no one is immune to corruption and that it doesn’t happen all at once. Instead it creeps in slowly until it becomes “normal.”
24 Hours is a morality play that business professionals at every level should read not just CEOs and accounting people. Business morality and professional ethics are something we all need to work on every day. Emshwiller and Smith simply give us a wake-up call that if public relations is to be considered a true profession ordinary practitioners you and I have to work a little harder every day.
Constantly remind yourself when reading 24 Hours that the book isn’t fiction, it is a documentary of how ordinary people tore the fabric of honesty inch by inch, day by day and how they covered their actions up from legislators, their shareholders and even themselves.
There was no big lie at Enron. It was a series of small actions that built and festered beneath the surface until two Wall Street Journal reporters accidentally pierced the company’s skin. The book is a fast, easy read.
Hopefully after you’ve completed the last page you will rethink “Business as Usual!”