Irvine, CA--Upon hearing the news that former Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling was sentenced to 24 years, most Americans, trusting the newspaper articles and books they have read on Enron, think that justice has been served. But, said Alex Epstein, a junior fellow at the Ayn Rand Institute, "Jeff Skilling has not gotten justice, and the media bear a major portion of the blame.
"Few Americans know that during Skilling's trial, the prosecution came nowhere near proving its central allegation that Jeff Skilling engineered a conspiracy to defraud investors. Few know that Skilling, upon leaving Enron five months before its collapse, destroyed no documents, nor did anything else resembling a criminal cover-up. Few know that the prosecution, unable to prove a conspiracy, spent huge swaths of the trial taking pot-shots at Skilling with issues not even mentioned in the indictment, such as the failure of Skilling, a multi-millionaire many times over, to disclose a failed $50,000 investment to Enron's board.
"The media's misportrayal of the case against Skilling long predates the trial. Ever since the fall of Enron, most of the media have treated as fact every conceivable smear against Skilling made by ax-grinding prosecutors or ex-Enron employees, while treating as absurd Skilling's claim that he neither engineered a conspiracy nor lied to investors.
"There can be no doubt that the media's treatment of Skilling contributed to his conviction for a phantom conspiracy--and to the outrageous 24-year sentence that he has now received. And the mistreatment of Skilling is part of a broader trend: the trend of treating businessmen as guilty until proven innocent. Our journalists and intellectuals, accepting the idea that the pursuit of profit is morally tainted, assume that whenever anything goes wrong in business, it is the result of crooked behavior by greedy, rich CEOs--and slant their coverage accordingly. This practice is putting numerous innocent men in jail, and instilling terror throughout corporate America.
"During Skilling's appeal, let us call for the media to start treating Skilling--and all businessmen--fairly."
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