NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Poor, misunderstood Chesapeake Energy (CHK) CEO Aubrey McClendon. He's really the victim, isn't he, in the current controversy over his fiefdom otherwise known as a publicly traded company owned by shareholders.
One thing is likely: No matter what anyone else thinks -- including some of the biggest pension funds in the world that would like to see the Chesapeake CEO put on a leash -- McClendon probably thinks he is the one being unfairly targeted.
Last November, when I had the chance to interview McClendon on the sidelines of a conference in New York, it wasn't too long after the first in what's now been worked into a Moby Dick-sized volume from the collected financial press attacking the embattled CEO of the second-largest oil and gas driller in the U.S. after Exxon Mobil (XOM). Chesapeake is actually No. 1 in terms of the number of rigs actively drilling on U.S. land right now.I asked McClendon about the New York Times piece in which Times writer Ian Urbina referred to Chesapeake as more or less being a Ponzi scheme - the print "shot across the bow" so to speak -- and McClendon answered in a way I found curious. He didn't respond to the accusations directly, but with somewhat of an exasperated look of a naif who has lost his innocence. He riffed on what a long-time reader of the Times he has been. The Chesapeake CEO seemed to feel personally wounded by the piece, stabbed in the back by a publication with which he has long began his mornings: "I read the New York Times every day for 30 years, and now I say gosh -- I never read the editorial page because I understood the bias there - I didn't understand just straight stories could be so biased." The "bias" as McClendon likes to view it, has now hit a crescendo in the aftermath of the Reuters investigation into the CEO's controversial well ownership. Controversy is nothing new for Chesapeake or McClendon, but with natural gas prices at a decade low and shareholders at a boiling point, it's a perfect storm for "death spiral" talk about Chesapeake. I even received a comment on Thursday from a city council member in a Texas town where Chesapeake dominates the drilling who asked, "We wonder how vulnerable our town is to a Chesapeake bankruptcy. " Yes, Aubrey, it's come to this. Short interest in Chesapeake shares has been on a steady rise, reaching close to 9% of the company's float as of mid-April, and increasing by roughly 62% since a year-ago. It could simply be a trade on the descent in natural gas prices -- Exco Resources (XCO), another proxy on natural gas prices has a similar short interest chart over recent months -- or it could be the beginning of the "death spiral" that some, including Real Money columnist Dan Dicker, see coming for Chesapeake as the David Einhorns of the hedge fund world see a fresh, and valuable carcass, to carve up.
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