Once sleazy, always sleazy


After the corporate scandals that began the century, with high-powered executives being led off to prison, you would think that boardrooms having been once burned would be twice shy.

Evidently not, as witness this headline on the snarky Web site Wonkette: "Hewlett-Packard confirms giant evil companies are as giant and evil as you thought." Not the sort of publicity, you would think, either HP or the corporate world would want.

HP is involved in a spreading scandal that has already cost it its chairman and seems set to claim even more careers. The company’s top executives will get to explain their side of the story next week before a House investigative subcommittee and may, literally, get their day in court because the California attorney general says he has enough information to begin issuing indictments.

As The Washington Post sums up an HP investigation into boardroom leaks, it "involved planting false documents, following HP board members and journalists, watching their homes, and obtaining calling records for hundreds of phone numbers belonging to HP directors, journalists and their spouses . . . "

The Post says HP’s chief executive officer signed off on a sting operation against a CNET reporter covering the company that involved concocting a phony high-level company tipster to dupe the reporter into revealing her sources. The fake official would send e-mails with plausible-sounding leaks about the company but the e-mails would plant covert tracking software. The e-mail arrived while the reporter was on vacation, which HP’s sleuth already knew because they had access to her phone records.

One aspect of the HP investigation was "pretexting" _ obtaining phone records under false pretenses, a ruse that The Wall Street Journal says the company used to obtain 16 months’ worth of home and cell phone records from one of its reporters.

The New York Times reported that the leak probers seriously considered, but never acted upon, a plan to place investigators posing as clerical workers or cleaning crews in the San Francisco offices of CNET and the Journal.

What’s dismaying about this, at least in light of the information so far, is none of the company’s senior executives and counsels objected that these duplicitous methods might be illegal, unethical or, to be old-fashioned, simply wrong.

Seemingly they never applied the most basic of all ethical measures: How will this look if it becomes public? The answer to date: Sleazy.

(Contact Dale McFeatters at McFeattersD(at)SHNS.com)