malum prohibitum when writing about politics.
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Is there not anyone out there among America's famously outspoken pundits willing to utter a kind word for Enron? Whatever happened to our columnists' vaunted iconoclasm? What about their compassion or their readiness to champion the underdog? Surely, those woebegone Enron execs trooping up to Capitol Hill practically in chains are underdogs. Who among the big-mouth pundits will stand up and say: "Wait a minute. Hold it. Give the guys a break." Are they waiting for the intercession of Human Rights Watch?
This is a perfect time for the brusque, beefy, no-nonsense Jack Germond to prove his stuff, or for The Washington Post's Richard Cohen once again to display his talent for "independence," as he did with Bill Clinton. Remember during the Clinton presidency what came to be the Cohen Cycle? Clinton would step in the fecal matter, and Cohen would purr: "Lay off the guy. He's got a job to do. Who hasn't eaten the first stone?" or something like that. Then things would quiet down. Clinton would again dirty his shoes, and Cohen would write, "This time he's gone too far."
Or how about the inimitable Maureen Dowd publishing a playful and girlish column at her venerated site on the op-ed page of The New York Times? Surely she could tap out a clever column about the Enron executives' neat haircuts, or their membership at posh golf clubs, or something about Rodeo Drive. Typical of her, it would have the Light Touch. It would bring in all manner of knowing detail about the typical Enron executive's lifestyle, his wife's lifestyle, his pedicurist's lifestyle or that of his highly pedigreed dog. It would be another of Dowd's "Makes-you-think" pieces. Surely I am not the first to observe that she is more than a writer of occasional columns, she is a sociologist -- like Flaubert!
So when will the Enron execs get the compassionate treatment that so many of our pundits are famous for? Or if not compassion, how about one of their famous "contrarian" pieces arguing that, contrary to received opinion, Enron was actually a brilliantly conceived modern corporation, very progressive and -- what would they call it? -- New Democrat. I suppose The New York Times' Dismal Science columnist, Paul Krugman, already wrote this piece. At least I thought I saw such a piece written by him some time ago in, I believe it was, Fortune. Now Krugman is leading the lynch mob against his former Enron heroes.
His indignation against Enron seems to have developed after it was revealed -- not by Krugman, mind you -- that he had received $50,000 for being a member of a mysterious Enron advisory group of pundits, most of whose members we now know have last names that begin with the letter K. There is Krugman and pundit William Kristol, to name but two. Only one other paid advisor has been identified, but there must be more.
Possibly Sen. Ernest Hollings of South Carolina will expose the rest of them, and that detail about their last name's beginning with K ought to raise the curiosity of the cornpone senator from the Senate Commerce Committee. Obscure little details catch his eye. He notes on the Sunday morning talk shows that weird relationships can be drawn between members of the Bush administration and at least one pharmaceutical company from Indiana and the unfortunately named Ken Lay, whose first name, you will note, begins with K.
But to return to Enron, its executives paid these pundits lavishly. Is it possible that the country's other pundits have also been on the take? Does that explain why not one has come forward with a good word for Enron? Perhaps they are following the Krugman tactic of heaping contempt on Enron to prove their own probity.
Well, it is all very disappointing. Doubtless as time goes on some of my conservative colleagues will leap to Enron's defense. It is just a matter of the conservatives' waiting until Enron's plight becomes absolutely hopeless. Doubtless then Pat Buchanan will heave up a column, perhaps arguing that Enron is a 100 percent American company with a lineage going back to the Mayflower. Cal Thomas will discover that Enron is a deeply Christian corporation. Arianna Huffington will see Enron's empty pension funds as examples of "compassionate conservatism." Or is she working some other angle these days?
As for me, I have now written my Enron column. Before the moral grandstanding becomes a pundit's legal obligation owing to a clause or two in Congress' oncoming campaign finance reform, I wanted to file a laugh or two. Led by Hollings and his colleagues, laughter might soon be