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Time "Persons of the Year"

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    NHNE News List Current Members: 746 Subscribe/unsubscribe/archive info at the bottom of this message. ... PERSONS OF THE YEAR CYNTHIA COOPER, COLEEN ROWLEY AND
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 22, 2002
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      PERSONS OF THE YEAR
      CYNTHIA COOPER, COLEEN ROWLEY AND SHERRON WATKINS
      By Richard Lacayo and Amanda Ripley
      Time Magazine
      Sunday, December 22, 2002

      http://www.time.com/time/magazine/printout/0,8816,401944,00.html

      This was the year when the grief started to lift and the worries came in.

      During the first weeks of 2002, two dark moods entered the room, two
      anxieties that rattled down everybody's nerve paths, even on good days, and
      etched their particulars into the general disposition. To begin with, after
      Sept. 11, the passage of time drew off the worst of the pain, but every
      month or so there came a new disturbance -- an orange alert, a dance-club
      bombing in Bali, a surface-to-air missile fired at a passenger jet -- that
      showed us the beast still at our door.

      In the confrontation with Iraq, in the contested effort to build a homeland
      defense, we all struggled to regain something like the more secure world we
      thought we lived in before the towers fell. But every step of the way we
      wondered -- was this the way back? What exactly did we need to be doing
      differently?

      And all the while there was the black comedy of corporate fraud. Who knew
      that the swashbuckling economy of the '90s had produced so many buccaneers?
      You could laugh about the CEOs in handcuffs and the stock analysts who
      turned out to be fishier than storefront palm readers, but after a while the
      laughs came hard. Martha Stewart was dented and scuffed. Tyco was looted by
      its own executives. Enron and WorldCom turned out to be Twin Towers of false
      promises. They fell. Their stockholders and employees went down with them.
      So did a large measure of public faith in big corporations. Each new offense
      seemed to make the same point: with communism vanquished, capitalism was
      left with no real enemies but its own worst impulses. It can be undone by
      its own overreaching players. It can be bitten to pieces by its own alpha
      dogs.

      Day after day, one set of misgivings twined around the other, keeping
      spooked investors away from the stock market, giving the whole year its
      undeniable saw-toothed edge. Were we headed for a world where all the towers
      would fall? All the more reason to figure out quickly, before the next blow
      to the system, how to repair the fail-safe operations -- in the boardrooms
      we trusted with our money, at the government agencies we trust with
      ourselves -- that failed.

      This is where three women of ordinary demeanor but exceptional guts and
      sense come into the picture. Sherron Watkins is the Enron vice president who
      wrote a letter to chairman Kenneth Lay in the summer of 2001 warning him
      that the company's methods of accounting were improper. In January, when a
      congressional subcommittee investigating Enron's collapse released that
      letter, Watkins became a reluctant public figure, and the Year of the
      Whistle-Blower began. Coleen Rowley is the FBI staff attorney who caused a
      sensation in May with a memo to FBI Director Robert Mueller about how the
      bureau brushed off pleas from her Minneapolis, Minn., field office that
      Zacarias Moussaoui, who is now indicted as a Sept. 11 co-conspirator, was a
      man who must be investigated. One month later Cynthia Cooper exploded the
      bubble that was WorldCom when she informed its board that the company had
      covered up $3.8 billion in losses through the prestidigitations of phony
      bookkeeping.

      These women were for the 12 months just ending what New York City fire
      fighters were in 2001: heroes at the scene, anointed by circumstance. They
      were people who did right just by doing their jobs rightly -- which means
      ferociously, with eyes open and with the bravery the rest of us always hope
      we have and may never know if we do. Their lives may not have been at stake,
      but Watkins, Rowley and Cooper put pretty much everything else on the line.
      Their jobs, their health, their privacy, their sanity -- they risked all of
      them to bring us badly needed word of trouble inside crucial institutions.
      Democratic capitalism requires that people trust in the integrity of public
      and private institutions alike. As whistle-blowers, these three became
      fail-safe systems that did not fail. For believing -- really believing --
      that the truth is one thing that must not be moved off the books, and for
      stepping in to make sure that it wasn't, they have been chosen by TIME as
      its Persons of the Year for 2002.

      WHO ARE THESE WOMEN?

      For starters, they aren't people looking to hog the limelight. All initially
      tried to keep their criticisms in-house, to speak truth to power but not to
      Barbara Walters. They became public figures only because their memos were
      leaked. One reason you still don't know much about them is that none have
      given an on-the-record media interview until now. In early December TIME
      brought all three together in a Minneapolis hotel room. Very quickly it
      became clear that none of them are rebels in the usual sense. The truest of
      true believers is more like it, ever faithful to the idea that where they
      worked was a place that served the wider world in some important way. But
      sometimes it's the keepers of the flame who feel most compelled to set their
      imperfect temple to the torch. When headquarters didn't live up to its
      mission, they took it to heart. At Enron the company handed out note pads
      with inspiring quotes. One was from Martin Luther King Jr.: "Our lives begin
      to end the day we become silent about things that matter." Watkins saw that
      quote every day. Didn't anybody else?

      What more do they have in common? All three grew up in small towns in the
      middle of the country, in families that at times lived paycheck to paycheck.
      In a twist that will delight psychologists, they are all firstborns. More
      unusually, all three are married but serve as the chief breadwinners in
      their families. Cooper and Rowley have husbands who are full-time,
      stay-at-home dads. For every one of them, the decision to confront the
      higher-ups meant jeopardizing a paycheck their families truly depended on.

      The joint interview in Minneapolis was the first time the three had met. But
      in no time they recognized how much they knew one another's experience.
      During the ordeals of this year, it energized them to know that there were
      two other women out there fighting the same kind of battles. In preparation
      for their meeting in Minneapolis, WorldCom's Cooper read through the
      testimony that Enron's Watkins gave before Congress. "I actually broke out
      in a cold sweat," Cooper says. In Minneapolis, when FBI lawyer Rowley heard
      Cooper talk about a need for regular people to step up and do the right
      thing, she stood up and applauded. And what to make of the fact that all are
      women? There has been talk that their gender is not a coincidence; that
      women, as outsiders, have less at stake in their organizations and so might
      be more willing to expose weaknesses. They don't think so. As it happens,
      studies have shown that women are actually a bit less likely than men to be
      whistle-blowers. And a point worth mentioning -- all three hate the term
      whistle-blower. Too much like "tattletale," says Cooper.

      But if the term unnerves them a bit, that may be because whistle-blowers
      don't have an easy time. Almost all say they would not do it again. If they
      aren't fired, they're cornered: isolated and made irrelevant. Eventually
      many suffer from alcoholism or depression.

      With these three, that hasn't happened, though Watkins left her job at Enron
      after a few months when she wasn't given much to do. But ask them if they
      have been thanked sincerely by anyone at the top of their organization, and
      they burst out laughing. Some of their colleagues hate them, especially the
      ones who believe that their outfits would have quietly righted all wrongs if
      only they had been given time. "There is a price to be paid," says Cooper.
      "There have been times that I could not stop crying."

      Watkins, Rowley and Cooper have kick-started conversations essential to the
      clean operation of American life, conversations that will continue for
      years. It may still be true that no one could have prevented the attacks of
      Sept. 11, but the past year has shown that the FBI and the CIA overlooked
      vital clues and held back data from each other. No matter how many new
      missile systems the Pentagon deploys or which new airport screening systems
      are adopted, if we can't trust the institutions charged with tracking
      terrorists to do the job, homeland defense will be an empty phrase. The
      Coleen Rowleys of the federal workforce will be the ones who will let us
      know what's going on.

      As for corporate America, accounting scams of the kind practiced at Enron
      and WorldCom will continually need to be exposed and corrected before yet
      another phalanx of high-level operators gets the wrong idea and a thousand
      Enrons bloom. And the people best positioned to call them on it will be
      sitting in offices like the ones that Watkins and Cooper occupied. The new
      Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which requires CEOs and CFOs to vouch for the accuracy
      of their companies' books, is just one sign of what Cooper calls "a
      corporate-governance revolution across the country."

      These were ordinary people who did not wait for higher authorities to do
      what needed to be done. Literature's great statement on unwelcome truth
      telling is Ibsen's play An Enemy of the People. Something said by one of his
      characters reminds us of what we admire about our Dynamic Trio. "A community
      is like a ship," he observes. "Everyone ought to be prepared to take the
      helm." When the time came, these women saw the ship in citizenship. And they
      stepped up to that wheel.

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