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Did the dog eat HP's homework?

(MoneyWatch) The only thing Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) seems to be adept at these days is coming up with ever more creative ways of embarrassing itself. If the technology giant could do half as good a job of promoting products as it does calling attention to just how incompetent its management is, sales would be booming.

Not that it matters. The brand that used to stand for innovation has become tarnished by a long, long string of botched acquisitions, changes in strategic direction and chief executive shenanigans. Not to mention a board of directors that nobody in Silicon Valley can talk about with a straight face.

Wait, scratch that. The HP brand isn't tarnished. It's shredded. Credibility? Forget it. Maybe all that's left for HP's hapless leaders to do is play the blame game. Now they can't even do that right.

Leo Apotheker, who preceded current chief executive Meg Whitman before getting the boot after just 11 months on the job, wasn't half bad at it. He blamed poor operating results on the CEO he succeeded, Mark Hurd, and the startling success of Apple's (AAPL) iPad. And remember the earthquake and tsunami in Japan? He blamed that, too. I give Apotheker a B- grade in finger pointing. Not bad at all.

Three months ago, Whitman followed up by blaming most of a $10.8 billion third-quarter restructuring charge on Hurd's 2008 acquisition of Electronic Data Systems. Then she attributed the company's dismal outlook to "changes in CEOs and executive leadership, which has caused multiple inconsistent strategic choices, and frankly some significant executional miscues."

At the time, I thought that sounded remarkably like Whitman was blaming the company's board -- the same board she was a part of -- but we'll set that aside, for now.

I don't think I'm talking out of school when I say that, last week, Whitman took an approach to the blame game that surprised pretty much everyone. She claimed that HP was duped when it acquired UK software maker Autonomy last year for $11 billion. Her accusations sparked an SEC investigation and she's vowed to sue, although I'm not sure whom she plans to sue since Autonomy is now part of HP.

Meanwhile, investors turned right around and filed a shareholder lawsuit against HP over the alleged Autonomy fraud. After all, HP should have uncovered any accounting issues during Deloitte's audit of Autonomy or KPMG's oversight of Deloitte's audit during the merger's due diligence process.

Ironically, since Whitman was on HP's board of directors when Apotheker initiated the acquisition and she became CEO before it was completed, well, I think she should bear considerable responsibility for the outcome. In other words, she's at least partially blaming herself and I couldn't agree more.

Let's not forget that Oracle (ORCL) CEO Larry Ellison publicly blasted HP for paying way too much for Autonomy at the time, not to mention that a host of others have since come out of the woodwork citing all sorts of red flags about Autonomy's accounting practices. Of course, Autonomy's founding CEO, Mike Lynch, disputes Whitman's allegations.

At best, the whole episode sounds just like a lame "dog ate my homework" excuse. It doesn't reflect well on Whitman, Apotheker or HP's board. But then, that's just the kind of silliness we've come to expect from what has become a joke of a company. I can't say I'm disappointed.

Image from Flickr user katie@!

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