Mark Hurd and the Weasel Language Test

The smart money on Wall Street says now is the time to buy Hewlett-Packard stock, because it appears from last week’s press conference that CEO Mark Hurd will weather the “pretexting” storm.

The smart money may well be right (that’s why it’s smart), but by any objective measure Hurd failed the all-important Lawyer Weasel Language test.

Hurd and Morgan, Lewis partner Michael Holston were direct and forthright during the press conference. “My goal from the beginning is to be as transparent as possible,” Hurd said. But whenever the subject turned to Hurd’s involvement in the pretexting scandal, the language quickly went from transparent to opaque. Herewith is our guide to all the weasel language (italics ours):

“In July 2005 I attended a brief portion of a meeting at which the results of the first phase of the investigation was discussed.” (This leaves a lot more wiggle room than, “I was briefed on the first phase of the investigation in July 2005.”)

“In March 2006 I attended a meeting at which a verbal sumary of the second phase of the investigation was provided. Specifically, the investigative team identified the source of the leaks. I understand there’s also a written report of the investigation addressed to me and others, but I did not read it.” (Nobody talks like this naturally. Apparently it would not have been prudent to say, “I was given a written report, but I did not read it.”)

As one might expect, the weasel language factor increased when attorney Holston made his statement. “We believe that [July 22, 2005] meeting was attended by Ms. Dunn, Ann Baskins, Jim Fairbaugh, Tony Gentilucci, Ron DeLia and Kevin Hunsaker. Mark Hurd also briefly attended a portion of that meeting.”

At this stage the evidence suggests that the investigative team never received any confirmation that the tracer was activated. The concept of sending the misinformation to the reporter, and the content of the misinformation to be contained in the message of the e-mail was approved by Mark Hurd. We have found no evidence that he was asked to approve the use of the tracer.”

Wow, did you count all that? Eight different lawyerly hedges in three sentences. It sounds like there still may be just a little anxiety about Hurd’s role in the tracer e-mail.

But don’t you worry about all that. Just run out and buy HP stock. Everything’s going to be just fine.

— Scott Graham



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