March 5, 2001, Fortune published Bethany McLean’s article, Is Enron Overpriced? The backstory of this article is as interesting as the actual article. She was prompted by Jim Chanos to look into “irregularities”. Conveniently, this is also when Chanos began to short massive amounts of Enron stock. McLean did as she was told and began to write the skeptical article about Enron. She phoned Jeff Skilling to get some comments and Jeff was about to walk into a meeting so he said he’d fly some people to New York to chat with her about Enron. Andy Fastow, Rick Causey and a few others were called on for the fun task.
I would be very curious to see the actual notes from that meeting. Andy Fastow has never talked about it. Rick Causey certainly never has either. So basically we have to take McLean’s word for the proceedings, something I am not inclined to do.
McLean claims that as the Enron executives were leaving, Fastow quipped, “Say whatever you want about the company. Just don’t make me look bad.”
I’m just not believing that Fastow had the foresight to say any such thing.
Skilling would point out that Business Week wrote a favorable article about Enron that same week, and the two magazines were rivals – thus if BW said something complimentary, Fortune had to counter it with something negative. But I think even Skilling couldn’t see all the pieces at that point. He had no idea that people were out to get him, destroy his company, and make lots and lots of money.