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press reaction

Houston Chronicle Ann Hodges

"... What makes tonight's Frontline a must-see for anyone interested in the business pages and the prospects of happier days ahead for employees, pensioners, investors, et al, is that Frontline's investigation seeks the hows and whys of what happened, not just at Enron, but going back to the 'investor frenzy' of the '90s.

In the end, it's a cautionary tale and a call for reforms.

Veteran journalist Hedrick Smith is the correspondent/producer, and he finds plenty of blame to spread around: an oversight system gone soft, greedy corporate executives protecting their stock options, conflicts of interests among supposed watchdogs and outside auditors doubling as 'consultants,' and congressional actions that -- so Smith judges, at least -- blocked efforts at protecting investors. ...

When it comes to Congress, Smith names names. And he puts the hard questions to SEC officials, executives of other companies, investor advocates, and more. Where were the stock analysts, lawyers, bankers, the SEC and -- 'above all' -- the accountants, he wants to know.

This TV report was done before a Houston jury brought in last Sunday's verdict of obstruction of justice in the Andersen case, so Smith added just a brief update of that at the end of this hour. That's time enough, though, for him to judge the verdict 'a fatal blow to the firm and a dark legacy to the accounting profession.' ...

Former SEC chairman Arthur Levitt and current SEC chairman Harvey Pitt speak out here, but in the end, it's Smith's own warning of what the future may hold that makes this report bigger than Enron.

Frontline is out in front again."

Rocky Mountain News Dusty Saunders

"...Frontline provides perhaps the best overall explanation, in television form, of the financial disaster that has been rehashed numerous times over the previous six months. ...

The overall value of Bigger Than Enron is two-fold.

First, it explains in laymen's terms exactly what happened. Many viewers, with only limited knowledge of corporate wheeling and dealing and the stock market, often scratch their heads in dismay when hearing and reading about the collapse of companies like Enron.

Second, Frontline could be stirring a debate since the report calls for major reforms to restore consumer confidence. Such a stance may disturb free market economists and talking heads who feel additional rules and regulations won't provide the long-term answer to problems created by Enron and Arthur Andersen.

As in the past, this Frontline report will both inform and stimulate a debate on how to deal with a knotty problem. That's one of many assets of this important series."

The Dallas Morning News Manuel Mendoza

"The timing for this week's Frontline documentary couldn't be better.

The accounting firm Arthur Andersen was convicted Saturday of destroying documents related to the government's investigation of Enron and is headed for a shutdown. The stock market is in a tailspin because investors have lost confidence in the integrity of corporate financial statements. No real reform appears on the horizon.

While it breaks no new ground, Bigger Than Enron -- produced, reported and narrated by veteran journalist Hedrick Smith and airing tonight on PBS -- puts Wall Street greed and dishonesty in a historical context, showing that this scandal didn't happen in a vacuum. ..."

The Denver Post Joanne Ostrow

"Tonight's Frontline...offers a clear step-by-step analysis of what went wrong, not just at Enron but at Sunbeam, Waste Management and other high rollers.

It may sound dry, and it's not a flashy production. But the hour explains the culture of greed so understandably, it's a wonder there won't be rioting in the streets. ...

This is old-style documentary reportage, a serious hour void of modern production tricks, charts or graphics. Through straightforward interviews with key players Smith arrives at a thorough accounting of the conflicts of interest within the accounting industry. Specifically, he explains how corporate America used friends in Congress to weaken accounting regulations. ...

This hour sticks to Wall Street and Congress. But viewers instinctively will think of average workers and investors like themselves. The horrendous losses of the average company worker bees we see on the nightly news, those who believed in their pension plans, can be better understood through Smith's rigorous big-picture reporting."

The Miami Herald Glenn Garvin

"... 'Bigger' does a few things well -- particularly in showing that the Enron scandal was not the first example of accounting flimflammery by the Arthur Andersen accounting firm.

But mostly it's a shallow tirade of populist sloganeering -- and forgetful populist sloganeering at that. 'Bigger' makes no mention that stock options were originally championed not by Wall Street sharks but President Clinton, as a way of tying executive compensation to company performance. It was Clinton's 1993 tax bill -- conspicuously unmentioned in 'Bigger' -- penalizing companies for paying salaries above $1 million that led to the proliferation of stock options. ...

Stuff like that gets omitted because it disrupts 'Bigger's' horror-movie plotline about 'corporate America' bogeymen. My suggestion: Ignore 'Bigger' and pick up a Stephen King novel. It's more believable."

Seattle Times Kay McFadden

"...With superb lucidity, Frontline correspondent Hedrick Smith zeroes in on the handful of causes that played midwife to an era of fraud, moral lapse and piggish self-interest exceeding even that legendary decade of greed, the 1980s. ...

Accountants play a central role in 'Bigger Than Enron.' That's timely, given a jury last week found Enron's outside auditor, Arthur Andersen, guilty of obstructing a government investigation.

The evidence Frontline compiles is more damning: The Arthur Andersen partner removed from Enron's account after warning for two years that the company was cooking its books. The successful fight Arthur Andersen and other accounting firms led to support a curb on shareholder lawsuits against companies -- and their accountants.

Of course, accountants couldn't do it alone. Frontline follows the trail of investor betrayal to our elected representatives, Democrat and Republican, who repeatedly kept the SEC from doing its job. And who gave money to your campaign, Sen. Lieberman?..."

Newsday Noel Holston

"A Frontline investigation indicates that the Enron scandal is only the tip of an iceberg. ...

...[A]s Frontline demonstrates, the relationship between big accounting firms and the companies they monitor got dangerously cozy in the 1990s as consulting -- on taxes, partnerships, finance -- became a major source of revenue for the supposedly independent auditors.

'They clearly had a conflict of interest, and some of them abused the public they were supposed to serve,' says Arthur Levitt, a former chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission. In 2000, Levitt proposed barring auditors from doing major consulting jobs for their clients. The accounting industry reacted like a dog protecting a meaty bone, pouring millions of dollars into lobbying -- and contributing to -- members of Congress.

Levitt shows Smith a letter from the congressional committee that controls the SEC's funding -- and thus, its existence -- warning him to ease up. He also has a letter from Enron's then-CEO, Kenneth Lay, urging him to cool it because Arthur Andersen's consulting was extremely important to his conglomerate's well-being. ...

It's such a gutsy, provocative public-service documentary, you wonder if PBS' president will get the sort of threatening letter Levitt got."

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