Words don't give justice to the sensationalism surrounding the arrest of Adelphia Communications Corp. founder — and now ex-chairman — John Rigas, his two sons and two other former employees.
It was a carefully planned media event, staged in Manhattan for the whole world to see.
The pictures say it all. Although the Rigases had earlier volunteered to surrender, they were not allowed the luxury of privacy. Frankly, drug dealers and child murderers have recently received better treatment.
The Bush administration — in its much-needed and long overdue drive to punish corporate evildoers and restore confidence in business — went for the low-hanging fruit here. As a result, the Rigas family became the poster boys for all that ails corporate America.
Why this treatment for the Rigas family and not for, say, Enron Corp.'s executives, with their ties to President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney? It's a question that's hard to ignore.
But the answer might be so obvious that it's actually a little unnerving. "The way the Rigases cooked the books made it so easy for all of this to happen," theorized one cable-industry executive. "The misdeeds were pretty easy to find."
Those alleged misdeed include two separate sets of books — one for them, and the other apparently to dupe the rest of us trusting souls.
Federal agents took the Rigases into custody at 6 a.m. last Wednesday morning, shackled in handcuffs. Camera crews from the Associated Press were already on hand, having been alerted of the day's photo op.
That's the kind of treatment that corporate wrongdoers of the decadent, boom-boom '80s received when they got nailed. Lots of prearranged flashing cameras, with the guilty cuffed and their mug shots plastered on Page One, with the deer-in-the-headlights look. It was referred to as the "perp walk."
Now don't think I'm going soft on John Rigas, the patriarch who built what became the nation's sixth-largest MSO from dirt. Hardly. I'm just as incensed as you all are.
In our recent Multichannel News Online
poll asking whether John Rigas should go to jail, some 80 percent of respondents said yes.
But let's not pass judgment. Let the judicial system do its job.
The newly vented anger over this whole Adelphia mess is incredible. But some of it is just stupid bloviating from greedy investors who treated the stock market as if it was a sure thing. They were burned, and they are seething mad.
The New York Times
quoted one executive who said, "There's a handful of CEOs that have done more to hurt our economy than Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda combined."
That's not only preposterous, but insulting to the families who lost loved ones. The economic decline was well underway before Sept. 11.
What is a fact, though, is that the Rigas family broke its word to many of you, our readers and advertisers, who are now — or will soon be — paying the price for their alleged illegal behavior.
But another quote from a senior cable industry executive — and a cable pioneer — best sums up what many of you have privately said about this whole imbroglio.
"They are crooks that always did things their way — aloof, sleazy, tough to get straight answers from," he said. "They were habitual late payers to vendors, never looked you in the eye and always had a reason to cancel.
"We are all now paying a big price for their hubris and stupidity. But I hear they are good golfers."