Tears of a Clown

by Jeffrey St. Clair

It turns out that Linda Lay’s weepy interview with Lisa Meyers of NBC News this week was as phony as an Enron stock prospectus. The tears shed by Lay’s latest trophy wife were scripted by public relations mavens from the powerhouse firm Hill and Knowlton.

Kenneth Lay’s sister, Sharon, told the Houston Chronicle on Wednesday, that she sent out a distress call last week to her friend, M.A. Shute, an executive for the public relations firm Hill & Knowlton who had represented Enron. When she called, Shute was sailing in the Caribbean with her husband.

“Get back here right now,” Sharon Lay demanded. “We need your help!”

Hill and Knowlton is to corporate damage control what Arthur Andersen is to the financial books of an ailing company, a sleight of hand artist. Hill and Knowlton has transformed the leaders of Latin American death squads into agents of altruism, tobacco pushers into health nuts, toxic waste generators into saviors of the wilderness.

“We wanted M.A. to give us some suggestions and insight as to how to handle all of this,” Sharon Lay said. The Lay’s were piqued that the press and the nasty Rep. Henry Waxman were constantly deploying words such as “arrogance” and “greed” to describe top Enron executives. “These words would never have come to mind in describing my family,” Sharon Lay said.

Of course, Ken Lay can’t talk. His lawyers have told him that anything he says will be used against him in court. So he sent his family forth to defend him. That’s where Hill and Knowlton’s Shute came into play.

Shute moved into Sharon Lay’s Houston home and spent a furious week coaching Sharon and Linda and the rest of the Lay brood on how to present themselves to the media. Then it was off to the Today show, the executive class’s Oprah.

Before Lisa Meyers, Linda Lay depicted herself as distraught and busted, a lonely housewife whose membership in the local Houston country clubs might be endangered by the calamitous downturn in her husband’s financial prospects. Her husband Kenny Boy, according to Linda Lay, was as much a victim as lowliest Enron wage earner whose pension had dissolved into thin air. He had done no wrong. Instead, wrong had been done unto him. His company had been sabotaged by evil advisors. “He didn’t know what was going on,” she said.

Now the Lays face poverty and deserve pity, not jail time. “We’re broke,” Linda moaned. “We’re selling everything we own.” The tears streamed. Even Lisa Meyers’ eyes seemed to mist over at the tragic narrative of the Lay’s reversal of fortune.

Too bad the account appears to be a nicely packaged tissue of lies. According to a review of the Lay’s real estate holdings in the Houston metro area, they still own over a dozen properties valued at more than $10 million. None of them are on the market. Then there’s that $14 million “vacation” home in Aspen.

Welcome to hard times, Linda and Ken.

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