http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&ncidW8&e=8&cidW8&u=/nm/ 20021222/ts_nm/people_time_dc Time Names Whistle-Blowers as Persons of the Year Sun Dec 22, 6:51 PM ET Add Top Stories – Reuters to My Yahoo!
By Javier David
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Time Magazine named two women who uncovered massive accounting fraud at Enron Corp. and WorldCom Inc. and a third who detailed FBI (news – web sites) failures after the Sept. 11 attacks as its 2002 “Persons of the Year” on Sunday.
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The magazine praised Sherron Watkins, a vice president at Enron, and Cynthia Cooper of WorldCom, as well as Coleen Rowley, an agent for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, for exposing malfeasance that eroded public confidence in their institutions.
“It came down to did we want to recognize a phenomenon that helped correct some of the problems we’ve had over the last year and celebrate three ordinary people that did extraordinary things,” Time managing editor Jim Kelly said.
In May, Rowley wrote a scathing 13-page memo to FBI Director Robert Muller detailing how supervisors at a Minneapolis, Minnesota, field office brushed aside her requests to investigate Zacarias Moussaoui, the so-called “20th hijacker” in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, weeks before they occurred.
Watkins, a former accountant, is best known for a blunt, prescient 7-page memo to Enron chairman Kenneth Lay in 2001 that uncovered questionable accounting and warned that the company could “implode in a wave of accounting scandals.”
Her letter came to light during an inquiry Congress conducted after the company declared bankruptcy.
Cooper undertook a one-woman crusade inside telecommunications behemoth WorldCom, after she discovered that the company had disguised $3.8 billion in losses through improper accounting.
When the scandal came to light in June after that company declared bankruptcy, jittery investors laid siege to global stock markets.
Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, outgoing chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee (news – web sites) and a leading congressional advocate for whistle-blower protections, applauded Time’s selection.
“Sherron Watkins’ example helped us enact the first corporate whistle-blower protections in history. Cynthia Cooper also showed the good that can come when courageous whistle-blowers come forward. Coleen Rowley’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee is leading to FBI reforms,” Leahy said in a statement.
Other people considered by the magazine, which hits stores on Monday, included President Bush (news – web sites), al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden (news – web sites), Vice President Dick Cheney (news – web sites) and New York attorney general Eliot Spitzer.
Bush was seen by some as the front-runner, especially after he led his party to a mid-term electoral upset in November that cemented the Republican majority in Congress.
However, Kelly said, “Some of (Bush’s) own goals: the capture of Osama bin Laden, the unseating of Saddam Hussein (news – web sites), the revival of a sluggish economy, haven’t happened yet. There was a sense of bigger things to come, and it might be wise to see how things played out.”
FBI agent and lawyer Rowley’s secret memo was leaked to the press in May. Weeks before Sept. 11, Rowley suspected Moussaoui might have ties to radical activities and bin Laden, and she asked supervisors for clearance to search his computer.
Her letter sharply criticized the agency’s hidebound culture and its decision-makers, and gave rise to new inquiries over the intelligence-gathering failures of Sept. 11, 2001.
The magazine’s 2001 Person of the Year was former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani (news – web sites), for his handling of the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington, which killed 3,000 people.