They All Agree: We Need Accounting Reform! Is That All We Need? (Late Edition)

By Klotzer, Charles L. | St. Louis Journalism Review, July-August 2002 | Go to article overview

They All Agree: We Need Accounting Reform! Is That All We Need? (Late Edition)


Klotzer, Charles L., St. Louis Journalism Review


Something is missing.

The New York Times asks President Bush "to rise to the occasion" and advocate changing the ground rules, promote a new accounting oversight board and various reporting reforms. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, more aggressive, recalls the President's questionable financial dealings in the past and seems to have given up on the administration. It asks Congress "to take up its own probe."

U.S. Senate investigators charge that Enron board directors not only should have known but also that they actually knew about high-risk accounting practices, conflict-of-interest transactions and undisclosed off-the-book activities. The U.S. House meanwhile will start its own investigation.

The summer issue of the respected Nieman Reports devotes 24 pages to 10 articles by distinguished journalists analyzing "Reporting on Business: Enron and Beyond." The articles, insightful and informative, cover a wide-ranging gamut of business journalism and its practices: how the Enron story was covered, who revealed what and who failed to dig beyond the press releases, the media's fixation with wealth and the well-to-do, the shortcomings of many business reports, and what can and possibly cannot be done to improve business coverage in the future.

For example, Paul E. Steiger, man aging editor of the Wall Street Journal, writes, "The real Enron scandal resides on the failure of institutions--accountants, lawyers and outside corporate directors--that have been relied upon for more than half a century to keep America's capital markets the most honest, transparent and, therefore, the most successful in the world."

Jeffrey Madrick, editor of the economic affairs journal Challenge, charges that many in the media, especially TV commentators, were cheerleaders for the market and for certain government policies. "Enron's story was consistent with the biggest economic story, which was the much reported belief that America was in the throes of a 'new' economy' and that high technology would remake the economy, with information as its main asset."

Norman Solomon, weekly columnist and author, comes closest to touching the underlying malaise, America's fixation with money and wealth. "The internalization of dollars as markers for human worth and artistic achievement has insidiously skewed how we view the meaning of culture and creativity," Solomon writes. "When did you hear Tom Brokaw, Dan Rather, or Peter Jennings report the latest rates of on-the-job injuries or the average wait time at hospital emergency rooms?"

After digesting all these reports, the question remains: Why does American culture and the body politic permit corporations to run our lives?

The discoveries of misdeeds by Enron, WorldCom and other business giants are an exception. Most corporations will not change their practices because, they will claim, that would be interference with the free market, the yardstick of universal democracy.

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They All Agree: We Need Accounting Reform! Is That All We Need? (Late Edition)
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