Whopper of the Week: Kenneth Lay

Caught in a fib the same day he takes the Fifth!

“[Enron Chairman Kenneth] Lay, 59, said that [Enron President and Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey] Skilling’s departure had ‘absolutely nothing to do’ with problems at the company or the fall in the stock price.”

—Jonathan Friedland, “Enron’s CEO, Skilling, Quits Two Top Posts,” in the Wall Street Journal of Aug. 15, 2001.

“Jeffrey K. Skilling said that the pressure he felt from Enron Corp.’s plummeting stock price was the main reason he decided to resign Tuesday as the energy giant’s chief executive officer after only about six months in the job. … Calling the company’s stock performance a ‘kind of ultimate score card,’ Mr. Skilling noted that Enron’s share price had fallen by some 50% this year.

“Mr. Skilling said he took that stock-price drop very personally. ‘I put a lot of pressure on myself’ for that decline, he said. … If the stock price had remained up ‘I don’t think I would have felt the pressure to leave,’ he said.”

John Emshwiller, “Enron’s Skilling Cites Stock-Price Plunge as Main Reason for Leaving CEO Post,” in the Wall Street Journal of Aug. 16, 2001.

“Mr. Lay told interviewers [for a special internal Enron investigation in January, a memorandum from which was leaked on Feb. 12, the day Lay took the Fifth before a Senate committee] that on July 13, Mr. Skilling told him that he planned to resign from the company after less than six months as chief executive. Mr. Skilling wanted to spend more time with his family, but was also so upset by the fall in Enron’s stock price that he wasn’t sleeping at night, according to Mr. Lay. … There was a debate at the board meeting over what reasons to give for Mr. Skilling’s resignation, with the company eventually ascribing his departure to personal reasons.

“The company never mentioned anything about Mr. Skilling’s concern over the stock price. Indeed, in an interview with the Wall Street Journal on the day of the resignation, Mr. Lay said that Mr. Skilling’s departure had ‘absolutely nothing to do’ with the fall of the company’s stock price.

“The next day, however, in another interview with the Journal, Mr. Skilling did say concern over the stock price was the decisive reason for his departure. The memorandum notes that Mr. Lay felt Mr. Skilling’s public remarks ‘undercut the company.’ “

John Emshwiller, “Lay May Have Tried To Mislead the Public,” in the Wall Street Journal of Feb. 13, 2002.

Got a whopper? Send it to To be considered, an entry must be an unambiguously false statement paired with an unambiguous refutation, and both must be derived from some appropriately reliable public source. Preference will be given to newspapers and other documents that Chatterbox can link to online.

Whopper Archive:
Feb 8, 2002: Enron spokeswoman Peggy Mahoney
Jan. 31, 2002: Monsanto
Jan. 24, 2002: Linda Chavez
Jan. 17, 2002: George W. Bush
Jan. 10, 2002: Simon & Schuster
Jan. 4, 2002: The Associated Press

(Click  here  to access the Whopper Archive for 2001.)