The Enron scandal has focused unwelcome attention on conservative publications such as The Weekly Standard, National Review and the Wall Street Journal. In what has been called “punditgate,” conservative journalists Bill Kristol and Erwin Stelzer of The Weekly Standard, Lawrence Kudlow of National Review and CNBC, and Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan accepted Enron largesse.
Commentator Cal Thomas is one of the few conservatives who has expressed alarm about this. “If you are a reporter, as opposed to a commentator, you shouldn’t be doing any of these things,” he said on the Fox News Channel’s “News Watch” program. “Nor should you if you are an editor?like Bill Kristol of a magazine?do anything for any organization that pays you that has or potentially could have political influence.”
Kristol, former chief of staff to Vice President Dan Quayle, took $100,000 without disclosing the payments at the time. Stelzer also took an estimated $100,000. It’s true that a liberal New York Times columnist, Paul Krugman, took $50,000 of Enron money. But Washington Post media reporter Howard Kurtz pointed out that “most of the Enron journalists are free-marketeers on the right.” Kristol, the editor of the Weekly Standard who postures as an independent journalist, got the money for serving on an Enron advisory board.
Kristol’s magazine disclosed his service in a largely positive article about Enron last November by contributing editor Irwin Stelzer. Stelzer wrote, “What Enron and chairman Ken Lay deserve to be remembered for is leading the fight for competition?. Enron fought to allow customers and suppliers to strike whatever bargains they found mutually advantageous…. Enron did challenge and defeat the establishment.” He said the advisory board was assembled by Enron chairman Ken Lay “to keep him and his team up to date on general public policy trends?” Lay could have easily read those things in the Standard.
Lawrence Kudlow, a National Review contributing editor and co-host of CNBC’s “America Now,” disclosed that he’d gotten $50,000 from Enron for speeches and financial advice. Former Reagan speech writer Noonan, who wrote a book about Ronald Reagan’s integrity and character, said she got $25,000 to $50,000 for helping Enron chairman Lay with a speech and annual report and that her services were worth the money.
Trying to distance himself from the scandal, Kristol has said the whole issue “is not much of a ‘gate.’ I feel like my engagement was aboveboard. I’m a little unhappy to have had an association with people who turned out to be not entirely honorable in other dealings.” Asked if he would follow some politicians’ lead and donate his “dirty money” to charity, to help laid-off Enron employees, Kristol said he was using it to pay for his daughter’s college education. A regular talking head on television, Kristol has tried to avoid the implications of being exposed as an “Enron journalist.” An advocate of “bioethics” in sensitive matters of human life, he frequently postures as a moral authority on current events.