24 Days: How Two Wall Street Journal Reporters Uncovered the Lies that Destroyed Faith in Corporate America

Overview

This is the story of Rebecca Smith and John R. Emshwiller, the two reporters who led the Wall Street Journal's reporting on Enron and uncovered the unorthodox partnerships at the heart of the scandal through skill, luck, and relentless determination.

It all started in August 2001when Emshwiller was assigned to write a supposedly simple article on the unexpected resignation of Enron CEO Jeff Skilling. During his research, Emshwiller uncovered a buried reference to an ...

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24 Days

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Overview

This is the story of Rebecca Smith and John R. Emshwiller, the two reporters who led the Wall Street Journal's reporting on Enron and uncovered the unorthodox partnerships at the heart of the scandal through skill, luck, and relentless determination.

It all started in August 2001when Emshwiller was assigned to write a supposedly simple article on the unexpected resignation of Enron CEO Jeff Skilling. During his research, Emshwiller uncovered a buried reference to an off-balance-sheet partnership called LJM. Little did he know, this was the start of a fast and furious ride through the remarkable downfall of a once highly-prized company.

Written in an intense, fast paced narrative style, 24 Days tells the gripping story of the colossal collapse of what would become the world's most notorious corporation. The reader follows along as Smith and Emshwiller continue to uncover new partnerships and self-dealing among the highest levels of Enron's management. As they publish articles detailing their findings in the Journal, Wall Street and individual investors have a crisis of confidence and start selling Enron stock at unprecedented levels of volume. In the end - 24 short days later - Enron had completely collapsed, erasing 16 years of growth and losing $19 billion in market value while watching the stock drop from $33.84 to $8.41. Not only was the company destroyed, but investors and retired employees were completely wiped out-all the while Enron executives were collecting millions of dollars.

Climaxing with this 24-day period, this book shows the reporter's-eye view of a David-and-Goliath battle between journalists and a giant corporation. Each day a new story uncovered another fact; each day the company issued denials. And when the investigative stories reached critical mass and momentum, the stock market cast its final vote of no confidence. In the tradition of Indecent Exposure and Barbarians at the Gate, two other gripping narratives that began as a series of Wall Street Journal stories and ended up as books that defined an era, 24 Days brings the importance of great investigative journalism to life.

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Editorial Reviews

Forbes.com
a page-turner...a riveting behind-the-scenes look at investigative reporting at its highest level
Fast Company
“A gripping first-person narrative.”
Houston Chronicle
“A good story that goes well beyond the common narrative of a company of excess”
Washington Post
“A fascinating tale that reveals as much about the journalistic process as about Enron.”
Denver Post
“[A] chronicle of greed run wild.”
USA Today
“Gripping...24 Days is a fast-paced, enjoyable read and the best of the Enron books yet.”
Associated Press
“Featuring unnamed sources, conflicts with editors and angry phone calls with Enron staffers.…Think All the President’s Men.”
Associated Press Staff
“Featuring unnamed sources, conflicts with editors and angry phone calls with Enron staffers.…Think All the President’s Men.”
Jack Covert
Even though 24 Days has the feel of a true crime book, the business lessons within it are eye-opening.
Washington Post
“A fascinating tale that reveals as much about the journalistic process as about Enron.”
USA Today
“Gripping...24 Days is a fast-paced, enjoyable read and the best of the Enron books yet.”
Houston Chronicle
“A good story that goes well beyond the common narrative of a company of excess”
Denver Post
“[A] chronicle of greed run wild.”
Fast Company
“A gripping first-person narrative.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060520748
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 10/12/2004
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 432
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.97 (d)

Meet the Author

Rebecca Smith is a national energy reporter in the Los Angeles bureau of the Wall Street Journal. She won the Gerald Loeb Award in 1996 and 2001.

John R. Emshwiller, a senior national correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, has spent most of the past decade covering white-collar crime and related issues. He is the author of Scam Dogs & Mo-Mo Mamas. Together, Smith and Emshwiller shared the 2002 Gerald Loeb Award for their coverage of Enron.

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First Chapter

24 Days
How Two Wall Street Journal Reporters Uncovered the Lies that Destroyed Faith in Corporate America

Chapter One

"Our CEO Is Resigning."

Some days, the newspaper gods refuse to smile. The keyboard won't cough up coherent sentences. A crucial source doesn't call back. The wall clock, warning of approaching deadlines, seems to be running a time zone too fast. Within minutes of getting that call on the morning of August 14, 2001, Jonathan Friedland, The Wall Street Journal's Los Angeles bureau chief, suspected it was going to be one of those days.

The caller was Mark Palmer, the public relations chief for Enron Corp., the Houston-based energy giant that the Journal covered out of its Los Angeles office. Normally, Palmer's call would have gone to the paper's national energy reporter, Rebecca Smith, or her de facto backup on the beat, John Emshwiller. But Smith was on vacation and Emshwiller was out of town on a story.

The PR man got right to the point. "Jeff Skilling, our CEO, is resigning," Palmer said. "Ken Lay is going to step up and assume the president and CEO duties."

You're kidding me, Friedland replied. He couldn't believe what he was hearing.

"No," said Palmer. "There'll be a press release in about an hour." There would also be a conference call with Lay and Skilling for the press and stock analysts at about 12:30 P.M. Los Angeles time.

"Why's Skilling quitting?" asked Friedland, still trying to absorb the news. He knew that Skilling had been Enron's golden boy for more than a decade and had just gotten the chief executive's job a few months earlier. It was unthinkable that he would quit so abruptly.

"Purely personal reasons," said Palmer. "The board didn't ask him to resign, nor did Ken Lay. It's got nothing to do with Enron or its future. He'll elaborate on the call." With that, Palmer said a hurried good-bye.

Friedland sat back in his chair in his cluttered corner office, his face furrowed in concentration. After more than twenty years as a journalist, the last ten with the Journal, he'd handled many big, unexpected announcements from companies, but this was Enron, one of America's premier companies, talked about in the same breath as General Electric and Microsoft and IBM. In a decade and a half, it had transformed itself from a sleepy natural gas pipeline company to a trading colossus with products ranging from gas and electricity to space on the information superhighway and insurance against inclement weather. In 2000, Enron's revenues had topped $100 billion, earning it seventh place on Fortune magazine's widely followed list of five hundred largest companies. Revenues for 2001 were on course to hit nearly $200 billion, an astonishing growth rate for a company of that size.

Enron's management team -- headed by its chairman, Kenneth Lay, who had been chief executive for fifteen years before Skilling took the helm -- was one of the best. Skilling was only in his late forties. Everybody expected him to be running Enron for years. Instead, he'd barely gotten the seat warm.

And what was this about "purely personal reasons"? Enron's explanation sounded implausible. In Friedland's experience, almost nothing was more important to a corporate chief than staying at the top once he'd gotten there. Maybe Skilling has some fatal disease he doesn't want to talk about, Friedland thought. Or, the bureau chief wondered with a pang of professional worry, is something going on inside of Enron that we should know about and don't?

Even as Friedland mulled over the mystery, he knew he wasn't the person to solve it. Silently he cursed the rotten timing of the announcement. Why did Smith have to be on vacation this week? Ironically, his energy reporter had been trying to schedule time off for most of the summer, but work had been too hectic. Working out of the Los Angeles bureau, the forty-six-year-old Smith had been covering Enron and about twenty other large energy companies for two years. She had moved to Los Angeles to take the Journal job, but she was eager to move back to the San Francisco area, where she'd lived for fourteen years. The Bay Area was her home; she had worked for the Oakland Tribune, San Jose Mercury News, and San Francisco Chronicle before joining the Journal in September 1999. She had another reason for wanting to move back north. She was divorced, and when she took the Journal job, she promised her ex-husband and her children, at the time ages eight and eleven, that they would treat the L.A. assignment as a tour of duty. At the earliest time possible, she'd get herself and the children back to the Bay Area.

Friedland called Smith on her cell phone and gave her a quick rundown of what had happened. "Can you think of any reason why Skilling would quit?" he asked.

As it happened, the call caught Smith on moving day, in an empty upstairs bedroom of her Bay Area home. She had been up since before daylight -- mopping floors and vacuuming empty rooms. Her first thought when Friedland called was, an exasperated, Can't I ever get away from work! As she talked with Friedland, she suddenly had the sinking realization that she might be expected to write a story on the Skilling departure while sitting on the hardwood floor with her company-issued laptop literally in her lap. She winced as she imagined the worst-case scenario: By the time she finished, every piece of furniture and heavy box would be in the wrong room, the "strong backs" would be gone, and a carefully orchestrated move -- that allowed nine days for packing everything, getting it all north, and unpacking more than two hundred boxes -- would be in shambles. Skilling couldn't have chosen a lousier moment to resign.

Normally, Emshwiller would have been ready to pitch in ...

24 Days
How Two Wall Street Journal Reporters Uncovered the Lies that Destroyed Faith in Corporate America
. Copyright © by Rebecca Smith. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 25, 2003

    Don't believe the hype

    I bought this book expecting a reprise of All the Presidents Men or Indecent Exposure, as advertised, but instead I found it to be a rather unenlightening and self-promotional narrative. This might be of interest to journalists but I found it uninspiring. Power Failure did a much better job of describing the downfall of Enron. The writing is lifeless and the analysis is turgid.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 10, 2003

    A fascinating read

    If you're interested in the story of how Enron's misdeeds were discovered, this is the book. You watch the reporters as they unravel the complex financial schemes that hid huge corporate losses--and you truly understand them at the end! It reads like a mystery story.

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