Word came late yesterday morning that the Enron verdict would be announced at noon — just the sort of biding-time, hurry-up-and-wait situation that inevitably brings out the best in cable news. So how, exactly, did cable news reporters fill the waiting time (apart, of course, from constantly returning to a live shot of a grouping of lonely microphones in front of the Houston courthouse?)
Over at MSNBC — in between reports that Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling was “seen in shorts eating sandwiches and talking with people” in an “area of shops” near the courthouse this week — MSNBC’s Melissa Stark and Willow Bay attempted to lure their guests into speculating about what the verdict might be.
Joining the MSNBC duo by phone from Houston, Houston Chronicle business reporter Loren Steffy was asked: “What is the suspicion that if the jury comes back earlier than expected, does that lean towards one verdict or another?” Steffy answered that “sort of the rule of thumb on these things is the sooner the jury comes back, it’s usually good for the prosecution.” Our first thought was, “Tell that to the O.J. Simpson jury,” but Steffy quickly backpedaled with “Anything can happen. We have to wait just a little longer.”
Unable to wait, Bay hit up another guest minutes later with the same question — what might be “going on” with the “earlier than expected” verdict — but that guest, Frank Aaron of the Washington Post, was unwilling to play along, answering: “I’ve given up trying to say what it means. We always misread the time that the jury takes. If they came back early he must be guilty. If they came back early he must be innocent. I’m not going to touch that one.”
Also unwilling to “touch that one” was Fox News’ Neil Cavuto who made the following pronouncement minutes before noon: “There’s a large debate, as you know, about what to make of the timing of this. I’m no lawyer, but I just see that it’s before Memorial Day weekend. These guys were not going to meet tomorrow, weren’t going to meet on Monday, maybe they just didn’t want to drag it over the weekend. They had enough days to look at what were 34 counts between these two guys and get it out of the way before the weekend. Maybe that’s a bit simplistic but … I think it’s just a fool’s game to start interpreting what the relatively quick jury process means.”
The “fool’s game” was well underway on CNBC, with Morning Call anchor Liz Claman doing her best to draw speculation from her guests. To former SEC commissioner Harvey Pitt Claman she said, “We’re six minutes away from supposedly the start of the process. What do you make of what’s happened?” Pitt replied that “the fact that the jury was able to come in with a verdict so quickly suggests that this could likely be bad news for the defendants.” Minutes later, Claman ran the same question — “What do you think is going on?” — by Laura Unger, another former SEC commissioner. Unger’s prediction: “I would be surprised if they didn’t come back with a guilty verdict. I guess the question is how guilty and on what counts …”