False report says Hewlett renominated

A news release purportedly from Hewlett-Packard claims Walter Hewlett has been renominated to HP's board. HP dismisses it, and the distributor starts a probe.

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A news release purportedly from Hewlett-Packard was issued Monday claiming that Walter Hewlett had been renominated to the company's board of directors. HP immediately dismissed the release as "unauthorized" and false.

See special coverage: A Fight to the Finish The release, which apparently was initially distributed by a European service called M2 PressWire, claimed that Hewlett was among 12 people who would be nominated to the HP board, assuming the merger is completed. In fact, HP's board decided on March 31 not to renominate Hewlett, the son of HP co-founder William Hewlett.

HP spokeswoman Rebeca Robboy said that the company has not reversed its decision and that the release was not authorized by the company.

Although M2 is less well known than BusinessWire or PR Newswire, the organization does distribute news through a number of well-known outlets, including Lexis-Nexis. The purported HP release did appear on the Lexis-Nexis Web site and was labeled as having come from M2. It also was posted on Wall Street Research Net, a site run by Internet.com.

"We have made an initial investigation and have commenced dialogue with HP," an M2 representative said in an e-mail Tuesday. Internet.com Editor in Chief Augustine Venditto said he is looking into the matter.

Hewlett, a 15-year board member, has led the fight against HP's proposed merger with Compaq Computer. HP said it had planned to renominate Hewlett despite his opposition to the deal. However, the company's board changed its mind after Hewlett sued the company in a Delaware court, seeking to overturn the results of a March 19 shareholder vote on the deal.

Monday's purported release lists Hewlett along with other current Compaq and HP nominees. The release includes a quote attributed to Fiorina on Hewlett's renomination.

"Commenting specifically on the re-nomination of Walter Hewlett, Fiorina noted, 'As we complete the merger, our imperative is to minimize distraction and disruption so that all our employees can focus their energies on serving our customers,'" the release says. "'We expect Walter Hewlett to join the rest of the new board in embracing both our management team and our strategy.'"

The incident is reminiscent of a scandal in August 2000, when a fake press release was distributed on Internet Wire claiming that the CEO of networking company Emulex had resigned. That release, which was carried by a number of major news organizations, briefly cut $2.5 billion in market capitalization from the company.

The release also comes just four days before the meeting at which HP shareholders will, in fact, vote on a slate of directors that does not include Hewlett. It also comes on the eve of a Delaware trial on Hewlett's lawsuit against the company.