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The Enron sideshow

By Jackson Murphy
web posted January 28, 2002

Follow the money. That is the advice journalists learned from 'Deep Throat' in the Watergate scandal-and it would seem at times it was the only thing they learned. Those simple three words are the key to understanding how any scandal in Washington gains momentum. But as it turns out nearly everyone in Washington took money from Enron over the past dozen years-the money leads out like the tentacles of an octopus. The whole beltway may have to be recused at this rate.

The collapse of Enron, the seventh largest corporation in America, has caught the eye of key Democrats and pundits as a chance to fight the incredibly popular president. They thought that the Enron meltdown could be tied to the Bush administration especially since the Bush campaign took so much money from them. Since it appears that the administration did nothing to help Enron when it got in trouble the scandal seems to be contained as simply a terrible financial mess. Those trying to proclaim this as Bush's "Whitewater" or "Enrongate" have been preoccupied with the appearance of impropriety instead of understanding what really happened.

It is telling when the promising political scandal devolves into a strange pundit scandal. This interesting sideshow that has developed has nothing to do with Bush or politicians; instead the trail of money is leading to a variety of pundits and journalists. Many have taken money from Enron over the years including the New York Times columnist Paul Krugman.

In the case of Krugman most don't believe that he has done anything wrong. To be fair, he has devoted many of his recent columns to the Enron affair and they don't paint a pretty picture for Enron. Unfortunately, he has gone as far as to suggest that, "the administration fears, and the press suspects, that the latest revelations in the Enron affair will raise the lid on crony capitalism, American style."

Krugman has basically blamed this on unfair conservative criticism. "Conservative newspapers and columnists made a concerted effort to portray me as a guilty party in the Enron scandal. Why? Because in 1999, before coming to The New York Times, I was briefly paid to serve on an Enron advisory board," wrote Krugman. This is the classic Clintonian bait and switch: I'm not the problem the right wing media is the problem.

The man acting like the grand inquisitor is Andrew Sullivan, a conservative writer and pundit. Not only has Sullivan not singled out Krugman, he has criticized four other individuals for the same thing-all of them 'conservative'.

The others: William Kristol (editor of the Weekly Standard), Lawrence Kudlow (National Review and CNBC commentator), Irwin Stelzer (Contributing editor of the Weekly Standard), and Peggy Noonan (Wall Street Journal) have all been on Enron advisory boards or did other work over the years.

Instead of this being a conspiracy against liberal pundits by conservatives it has become the biggest bipartisan show in town. The real question then is whether or not disclosure by these pundits means they are off the hook?

Sullivan asks, "Isn't there some cloud inherently over Krugman's and Noonan's subsequent writing about Enron? At least some of their readers now suspect something fishy went on. Haven't these pundits essentially undermined themselves as independent watchdogs of the culture? Isn't the entire point of the press to be independent - observers of problems not part of them?"

Sullivan is devastatingly correct. Most readers of newspapers rightly want to have the columns they read without wondering in the back of their minds why a pundit is being so critical on a given subject-or worse why he is not. So when Krugman writes about crony capitalism he might want to practice what he preaches. Mark Steyn in the National Post concludes that, "Perhaps at the very least the laughably hypocritical Professor could stop lecturing us lessers on the evils of greedy capitalism."

George W. BushIf Krugman says, basically, "look I took money from Enron but I have been trashing them so I'm clean leave me alone", shouldn't Bush be able to say, "of course I took money from 'Kenboy', I am not stupid you know, but I just let that company self-destruct so I'm clean, leave me alone."

For his part Bush was seen leaving the White House in the last week with a copy of the New York Times number one bestseller, "Bias" under his arm. The book, "Bias: A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distort the News" by Bernard Goldberg has become a smash hit for trying to expose media bias. Was this a not too subtle message to his friends in the press corps to wise up because he is on to them-the message that the media has spent plenty of time looking at Bush at not near enough looking at its own columnists and employees.

Jackson Murphy is a commentator from Vancouver, Canada. He is the editor of "Dispatches" a website that serves up political commentary 24-7. You can contact him at jacksonmurphy@telus.net.

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