Friday, January 25, 2002

SULLIVAN UNRAVELS (3): He won't let it go! Andrew Sullivan's latest beef is that Paul Krugman is morally suspect -- not for accepting a consulting fee from Entron per se, but for failing to insist that they knock it down from the original $50,000 to, say, a Sullivan-sized $7,500 or thereabouts.

Honestly, Andrew, do you really ever expect to convince an economist to apologize for his own market value?

I remember these arguments back when Johnny Carson started to wring record-breaking contracts out of NBC -- to which they gladly agreed, if it would keep his Tonight Show stint going for a few more years. In terms of what he actually contributed to society -- so the arguments went -- was Johnny Carson ever truly worth more than, say, the best teacher in the New York City public school system? Should Carson have humbly accepted a modest $100,000 annual salary, even though he could easily command $20 million? Is this really a serious argument, or just a space-filler?

Likewise, who begrudges top professional athletes their seven- and eight-figure deals? Or Rush Limbaugh's nine-figure deal? Granted, Limbaugh is not working for a transparently criminal enterprise -- but good grief, the Enron story is still unfolding! Perhaps Sullivan is ready to make a rush to judgment on pure instinct. I would call it gross journalistic negligence to declare, here and now, that Ken Lay and his cronies broke insider trading laws as early as 1999, the year Krugman did his very short stint as an Enron consultant. (Slate's Rob Walker takes pains to remind us that "...almost every reasonable story on the subject makes passing mention of the fact that we still don't actually know what went wrong." [italics mine.] )

Isn't the timetable at all relevant? Yes, it may be reprehensible that Enron used lawful tax shelter gimmmicks to "hide" corporate debt for years. But If Enron execs did nothing technically illegal until they massively cashed out their stock options in 2001, and Krugman had no "relationship" with them after 1999, then for what does Krugman really have to apologize -- other than having become a more valuable commodity than Andrew Sullivan?

Or to put it another way: Is it okay to eat California lettuce yet? Can I ever buy Bayer aspirin or a Volkswagen Beetle with a clear conscience?

Come on, Sully. What's really bugging you?

UPDATE: Paul Krugman's New York Times non-apology salient point: "The muck stops here."

UPDATE: Peggy Noonan joins the $50,000 club and comes clean here.

UPDATE: Later in the day, Sullivan adds: "Shouldn’t Krugman and Noonan and Kudlow and Stelzer and Kristol now recuse themselves from any further Enron commentary?" To which I reply, Why isn't it enough that they have disclosed? Can't their ideas still stand or fall on their own merits? Doesn't the scrutiny and vocal criticism of their readers act as a break on any uncharacteristically loopy notions these EnroPundits may put forth in the future?

UPDATE: Word comes this afternoon that former Enron Vice Chairman Clifford Baxter has taken the easy way out and fallen on his sword. Baxter reportedly made $35 million on the sale of his Enron stock options -- and lucky for him, that's just about exactly what he'll need to pay the boatman.

Will the vast right-wing conspiracy find a way to pin this murder on Hillary? Stay tuned...


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