Pondering the Sudden Death of Ken Lay

The death of former Enron CEO Kenneth Lay sparked plenty of blogofication - about the death itself, the White House press secretary's reaction to it and the media's treatment of it.

The death yesterday of former Enron CEO Kenneth Lay sparked plenty of blogofication — about the death itself, about the White House press secretary’s reaction to it and about the media’s treatment of it.

Joy-Ann Reid at Reidblog wonders, “Where in the world is Ken Lay?” and features a photo of today’s New York Post (cover headline: “Before they put Cheato Lay’s coffin in the grave, check he’s in it”). Reid also highlights this exchange between Tony Snow and a reporter during yesterday’s White House press briefing:

Q: One other quick question. What has been the president’s reaction to the death of Ken Lay?

Mr. Snow: I really haven’t talked to him about it. I’ll give you my own personal reaction, which is when somebody dies you leave behind those who grieve and I think they deserve our compassion. But I don’t know, what do you think would be the appropriate thing to say?

Q: I don’t know. I don’t know him. The president was his friend, not me.

Mr. Snow: No, the president has described Ken Lay as an acquaintance, and many of the president’s acquaintances have passed on during his time in office. Again, I think — it’s sort of an interesting question, but not answerable by me.

Reid’s reaction? “Where is the love … hell, where is the follow up question???

At Welcome to Pottersville, JurassicPork congratulates himself and his peers for their collective moderation. “You have to admit, the folks in Left Blogostan have been admirably restrained in reporting on the death of corporate mobster Kenneth Lay… Go to the biggest blogs … and you’ll find there’s no grave-dancing going on except in a few scattered snarky comments. [Like, say, the title of JurassicPork’s post, “One Less Smart Guy in the Room.”] He continues: “Imagine the Irish jigs that we’d be seeing on the ugly side of the tracks if George Soros had died mere months after being found guilty of boning his investors and employees alike.”

Referring to Snow’s “acquaintance” comment during yesterday’s press briefing JurassicPork writes, “The crawling away from the late Lay has already begun. Before his carcass had started to cool off, White House Press Secretary Tony Snow was trying to downplay Bush’s closeness to the guy who was the single biggest contributor to his re-election campaign … Lay allowed Bush and Cheney to use his personal jet during their first presidential election campaign in ‘00. Kind of generous and trusting for a guy who wasn’t more than a casual acquaintance of George Bush, eh?”

Scotus at the DC Universe asks, based on yesterday’s press briefing, whether “Tony Snow work[ed] for the Mafia before Fox News?” Blogs Scotus: “Okay, I could be way off here, but doesn’t this [Snow calling Lay a Bush ‘acquaintance’ and observing that “many of the president’s acquaintances have passed on during his time in office”] sound vaguely threatening? … For all I know, Tony Snow is a nice guy who loves kittens, the color pink, and pictures of rainbows, and didn’t mean anything nefarious in the least. But if I were an ‘acquaintance’ who may or may not be a political liability (Hi, Scooter!), I’d sweat.”

At Wonkette, it’s the Washington Post business section’s treatment of Lay’s death (specifically, Henry Allen’s “Essay”) that is singled out for ridicule (“Business Section, Decadent, Depraved”). To Henry Allen, Wonkette lectures, “[W]e know you’re a Pulitzer-winning critic, a respected old newspaper veteran, all that jazz. But please — the death of Ken Lay does not call for a rewrite of Hunter S. Thompson’s Nixon obit. Ken Lay was a garden-variety crook, not the near-mythic villain of a generation. You are a Washington Post staff writer, not an iconoclastic, self-destructive legend.” Wonkette goes on to identify “some phrases [written by Allen] that should not appear in the Washington Post” — including “man of strange and constant demands” and “gibbering with anguish as fire-eyed psychopaths stare at him for unblinking hours” — and informs Allen, “[Y]ou are supposed to get this stuff out of your system while you’re writing for your college paper.”

CNN, too, slipped up in its Lay-related coverage, according to Broadcasting & Cable’s blog, B&C Beat. An unnamed B&C blogger has “a bone to pick with [CNN’s] taste in headlines.” The blogger explains: “I’m not saying that Enron exec Ken Lay wasn’t fair game for corporate punching bag taking down countless pensions, but that was before he suffered a massive heart attack, after which different rules need to apply. CNN’s headline for the story, at least a late take on it: ‘Sudden Death: Ken Lay Avoids Jail Time.’ Uh, uh. Can’t do it. As an obituary writer of many years experience, I know well the temptations of clever headlines. Daily Show, yes, but it should not be done in straight newscasts. Period.”

And finally, Dave at Dave of Mass Destruction takes a swipe at Reuters for its — shall we call it, creative? — use of the “Lay death” news hook yesterday. (Reuters’ headline: “Ken Lay’s death prompts confusion on Wikipedia” and the lede, “The death of former Enron Corp. chief Ken Lay on Wednesday underscored the challenges facing online encyclopedia Wikipedia, which as the news was breaking offered a variety of causes for his death.”) Huffs Dave: “I find it highly amusing that any major news agency would write an article picking on Wikipedia simply because yesterday’s news of Ken Lay’s death changed over and over again. Should we take a walk through the Internet archives and see who Reuters said won the presidential election back in 2000? Should we do a search for ‘Correction + Reuters’? No, let’s not stoop.”

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.