Although it was written in his defense, I have to wonder how much Maurice Greenberg, the recently deposed CEO of American International Group, appreciated the April 13 editorial in The Wall Street Journal that was headlined: “So Indict Him Then.”
Its kind of like a youngster telling the that, yeah, his best friend can take anything the bully can dish out. His sweating best friend, meanwhile.but you get the picture.
Actually the bully analogy is not far off the mark because the person that the Journal editorial was addressed to is New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer.
Its a long time since I can remember agreeing with any editorial in the Journal, but with this one I did, at least in part.
Now, I want to make something perfectly clear, to quote someone else I never thought Id be quoting, and that is: I am not defending Hank Greenberg.
In fact, I want to repeat this for those readers who home in on one word or sentence in a column and ignore the rest: I am not defending Hank Greenberg.
I have no idea whether Mr. Greenberg was ever engaged in fraudulent activities. That is something that willand shouldbe determined by the numerous ongoing investigations.
But what I do defend is his right not to be tried on television by Spitzer. There very well may be drama in legal proceedings, but Im sure that even Attorney General Spitzer knows that they should not degenerate into mere entertainment.
So, when the AG goes on TV to be interviewed by George Stephanopoulos and bounces around words like “fraud” and “illegal” regarding alleged activities of Mr. Greenberg, then I think he has gone too far and overstepped the line.
As the Journal said, “then why not get on with it and indict the man? If Mr. Greenbergs behavior is so heinous that it warrants a denunciation as fraud on national TV, what is Mr. Spitzer waiting for?”
Spitzer, a media hound if there ever was one, surely knew how widely his comments would be reported and also knew how duly the media would parrot those remarks without much more than a glance at reporting what the other side might have to say.
As for Greenberg, one only can imagine how he is dealing with his world unraveling in the space of a month. Of course, he has not done his situation any good by reports of shenanigans with AIG documents in Bermuda or with transferring over $2 billion of AIG stock to his wife only days before he resigned as CEO.
Nonetheless, he is still entitled not to be judged in a bread and circus atmosphere, which is something the AG is coming perilously close to replicating.
But perhaps Spitzer is playing to what seems to be becoming Americas favorite emotion nowadays, something the Germans call Schadenfreude, or glee at anothers misfortune. Witness the Martha Stewart prosecution.
Indeed, one might say that in early 21st century America the archetype that draws the most intense interest is no longer Horatio Alger, self-made man, but the tale of someone on high who falls from the pinnacle to the pit.
Returning to Spitzer and his conduct vis-?-vis Greenberg, however, I want to conclude with something a little less genteel than the Journal, but something a would understand: Put up or shut up.
Reproduced from National Underwriter Edition, April 15, 2005. Copyright 2005 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved.Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.