Cowards of the Year: 2003-2004 Edition

This flock of chickens is really something to cluck over.

For every action, there’s a reaction; for every yin, a yang. And as much as we celebrate courage, there has been more than enough cowardice to go around. Here’s this year’s less-than-glorious crop of antiheroes.


Grand prize: Leslie Moonves, CEO of CBS. What a year! In the face of conservative outrage, Moonves banished The Reagans miniseries to Showtime. He then nixed an anti-Bush spot from MoveOn during the Super Bowl, citing a policy against advocacy ads. What CBS did allow: Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction,” which, needless to say, Moonves blamed on the hired help.

Elizabeth Hoffman, president of the University of Colorado. A grand jury investigated charges of rampant recruiting abuses at the university’s football program amid accusations of sexual assault. Hoffman’s response: She put longtime coach Gary Barnett (“a great mentor” who makes about $1 million a year) on paid leave, then reinstated him and kept the program more or less as is.

Former Symbol Technologies Inc. CEO Tomo Razmilovic, who, facing indictment on U.S. securities fraud charges, hastily employed the Tanzi defense. Like former Parmalat chief Calisto Tanzi, Razmilovic fled for friendlier climes — abandoning his London apartment for a remote home in Sweden, where he enjoys far lower risk of extradition. Unlike Tanzi, he hasn’t come back.

Bud Selig, commissioner, and Major League Baseball’s owners and players. Talk about a silent conspiracy: As baseball’s drug problem was aired in a San Francisco courtroom, the sport stuck to its mostly toothless steroid-testing program — and the players’ union continued to resist year-round testing. Selig professed concern but waltzed awkwardly around the crisis, ordering club owners not to discuss it publicly.

Former president Bill Clinton, who, on page 773 of his epic memoir, My Life, wrote, “I’d had an inappropriate encounter with Monica Lewinsky” — once more proving himself adept at simultaneously confronting the truth and evading it. Say it, Bill: “I had sex with that woman. (More than once.)” And while you’re at it, find an editor brave enough to pare your next book down to human scale.

Former New York Stock Exchange chief Richard Grasso’s $188 million windfall was outrageous — but no more so than the NYSE board’s complicity. The NYSE’s compensation committee, including Home Depot cofounder Kenneth Langone, Richard Fuld of Lehman Brothers, and Merrill Lynch’s David Komansky, rubber-stamped Grasso’s packages — then claimed ignorance when the scandal broke.


Is muckraking filmmaker Michael Moore courageous? Debatable. Is Disney CEO Michael Eisner? No. Eisner barred subsidiary Miramax Films, which financed production of Moore’s over-the-top Fahrenheit 9/11, from distributing the anti-Bush documentary. “We just didn’t want to be in the middle of a politically oriented film during an election year,” Eisner said. The big losers: Disney shareholders.