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Dunn's Hall of Fame moment

HP's embattled chairman is inducted into the Bay Area Council's Hall of Fame, and the press gets shunned.

All I wanted was a lousy breadstick or two.

No luck. Along with a hungry handful of reporters who showed up last night for Pattie Dunn's standing room-only speech to a local business group, I was instead shown the door.

Literally.

In this case, the shlubs from the Fourth Estate were politely packed off to a richly paneled side room at San Francisco's Westin St. Francis hotel.

On the other side of the wing, a few hundred swells chowed down on paninis and Angus beef filets in the main ballroom, waiting for the induction of Dunn, Hewlett-Packard's increasingly embattled chairman, into the Bay Area Business Hall of Fame.

This, then, was the perfect media event. Dunn was guaranteed to get gobs of publicity for a speech to a sympathetic crowd--and nobody was allowed to ask uncomfortable questions.

But the handlers working the event were taking no chances. Dunn has been dealing with a bad hair day (for the last couple of weeks), and a closed-circuit television connection was as close as we were getting.

This, then, was the perfect media event. Dunn was guaranteed to get gobs of publicity for a speech to a sympathetic crowd--and nobody was allowed to ask uncomfortable questions.

That's understandable. Dunn's role in the increasingly bizarre details surrounding HP's probe into the company's board leak investigation could land her--and perhaps other HP managers--in hot water. Government investigators are digging through documents, and each day seemingly brings to light strange new details. The latest allegations being the surveillance of CNET News.com reporters, including bogus e-mail tips and physical surveillance.

Unfortunately, anyone hoping that Dunn would use the occasion to enlighten the world on the real story behind "Patriciagate" left the evening disappointed. Instead, Dunn played the part of humble victim with a prepared speech that lasted less than 10 minutes.

Dressed in a demure black outfit with an offsetting pearl necklace, she ascended to the podium and thanked the Bay Area Council for standing by its decision "in such unexpected circumstances."

Noting the irony of the moment, she expressed her desire to be "permitted to set the record straight and go back to living my life."

At one point, Dunn seemed on the verge of losing it, but she kept her composure throughout. No doubt, the woman is going through agony. This isn't the final coda Dunn intended to put on her career. The growing scandal at HP has already cost her the chairman's post, even though the board of directors is letting Dunn drag her departure out until January in a face-saving move.

Truth be told, I'm getting fairly sick of chronicling the truths, half-truths and lies that have attended this affair. But this story's not being fueled by a bloodthirsty pack of reporters chasing a headline. It's being pursued by state and federal investigators because laws were broken, and rules of corporate governance were tossed aside.

Late Wednesday afternoon, HP scheduled a press conference for Friday afternoon without offering further information. Will HP offer the full, unvarnished chronology? That would be a refreshing change, and it might do wonders to elevate the take-charge reputation of its CEO. So far, however, Mark Hurd has let the company's PR team take all the bullets for the management team. That's not the stuff of leadership.

Now The Washington Post is reporting that Hurd approved of an e-mail scheme involving a CNET News.com reporter that supposedly involved planting a phony news tip. At this stage, it's still unclear what he knew and when. But his silence only adds to the mounting speculation.

As for Dunn, I couldn't help but feel sympathy as a colleague chronicled the sundry challenges that have punctuated her career. But at least she achieved an honor that, so far, has eluded Pete Rose: Dunn actually made it into the Hall of Fame.