by Scoobie Davis
DVD: Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room
I didn't see Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room when it was in the theaters, even though some people had recommended that I see it. At the time, the thought of seeing it was too depressing--depressing for the investors, the consumers--the Grandma Millies, and the working people who lost their life savings, jobs, and pensions after the big fish cashed out. Depressing because, while Lay et al have or will be getting their just desserts, their political allies--most notably George W. Bush--remained relatively unscathed by the scandal a politician whom can best be described as a victim--like Gray Davis--were unceremoniously unseated by a man who met with Ken Lay in 2001--something I didn't know until I saw the film. (Disclosure: I supported Al Checchi for governor in 1998, Davis in 2002, and opposed Davis' recall).
Nevertheless, I saw the DVD last night and I give it my highest recommendation. It was a masterful presentation of the facts. The filmmakers used an array of footage and blended them well with photographs and motion graphics. The editor has a keen sense of pacing, both in terms of the rhythm and when to linger on a topic. I don't think it was a stretch when the filmmakers cited Stanley Milgram's famous obedience study to explain the callousness of the Enron traders--though I think the callousness of someone like Bush is due to a sense of entitlement.
I recommend the film not just because it is a very good film but because the Enron saga is one whose lessons progressive should remember. The American right certainly haven't forgotten them--unfortunately they learned the wrong one. They learned that if they ramp up the their noise machine to send the message that a largely GOP scandal is bipartisan, enough of the legitimate media will parrot these talking points and the issue will be a wash with Americans. The loyal Republican media was largely successful (though they got a lot of help because this occurred right after 9/11). Talk radio, Fox News, the Moon-run Washington Times, and even some people in legitimate journalistic enterprises provided cover for Bush by portraying Enron as a bipartisan scandal. This was achieved with lies--such as the false meme that Ken Lay slept in the Lincoln bedroom in the Clinton White House (click here for a transcript of my confrontation of Matt Drudge for starting this rumor).
We see the right revamp this strategy with their attempt to promote the false GOP talking that Jack Abramoff gave to both Republican and Democratic members of Congress. Again, the same usual suspects are involved: Fox News, the Moonie Times, and talk radio, even some of the supposed mainstream media like Washington Post ombudsman Deborah Howell. Progressive sources have been more diligent and focused and are doing an excellent job of responding to GOP-orchestrated disinformation. Howard Dean aggressively countered CNN's Wolf Blitzer's claim that Abramoff gave to Democrats--and the exchange has been highly publicized on the Internet. More recently, when Deborah Howell, the Washington Post's ombudsman--of all people--spread the same misinformation, the response was swift and decisive. I think the lesson has been learned.