Pickens’s legacy is clearly, um, checkered

I just read a New York Times story on the retirement of a Texas Panhandle legend.

T. Boone Pickens is calling it quits. He is ending his direct involvement in BP Capital, a hedge fund he created.

The story is interesting insofar as it goes. However, it misses an essential part of the checkered legacy that Pickens, an outsized oil and natural gas wildcatter, leaves behind.

I’ve written a couple of blog posts about Pickens, who I don’t know well, but he is someone with whom I’ve had some professional contact over the years. We got along well, even though I worked for the Amarillo Globe-News.

I say “even though” because that’s a part of the Pickens legacy that the NYT article overlooks.

Read the article here.

The article mentions that Pickens made his “share of enemies” during his decades in the energy and land business. He made a lot of them right here in Amarillo, the unofficial “capital” of the Texas Panhandle.

It was the late 1980s and Pickens had been the subject of some extensive media coverage in the Panhandle. The Globe-News was covering a lot of Pickens’s business activities. The paper didn’t couch its coverage of the community in a way that Pickens desired.

So, what did the energy tycoon do? He launched a boycott of the newspaper. He called on advertisers to pull their ads from the Globe-News; he implored subscribers to cancel their subscriptions; he wanted to drive the Globe-News out of business. He and his friends formed an organization with the acronym PCBAN — which stood for Panhandle Citizens for a Better Amarillo Newspaper.

Clever, yes? Whatever.

I remember reading about the boycott in Beaumont, where I worked at the time. I also remember thinking: Who does this guy think he is?

Pickens in effect declared the Globe-News the “enemy” of the community it served. Hmm. He was sort of the precursor to Donald Trump’s declaration of the media in general as the “enemy of the American people.”

Pickens took his fight into the public arena. He had plenty of allies on his side in the fight. He also engendered plenty of enmity throughout the community.

It came to a head when the then-corporate owners of the Globe-News — Morris Communications Corp. — caved in to Pickens’s demands and shipped the publisher of the paper, Jerry Huff, to another location within the Morris group of newspapers.

And on the publisher’s last day on the job in Amarillo, Pickens’s staff at the Mesa Building a few blocks away in downtown Amarillo hung a banner from the roof. It read in big letters: Goodbye, Jerry.

Classy, yes? No need to answer.

I am not going to condemn Pickens over that episode. I just thought it was helpful to present a fuller picture of the man’s legacy.

Pickens had many ups during his lengthy and highly successful business career. However, no one is perfect. Someone who made as much money as Pickens did is sure to step on his share of toes along the way.

Boone Pickens’s big footprint clearly inflicted its share of public relations damage.

Leave a Reply