Saturday, December 13, 2008

The gifts that keep on giving

With the world economy imploding, newspapers would normally have nothing to distract worried readers except post-Dickensian seasonal miracles - the soup kitchen run by a reformed meth addict and soccer mom, the lost dog who hitched a ride home on a corporate jet. There appears to be an endless supply of such stories at this time of year, and an endless temptation for editors to run them.

But the recent news cycle has provided a better brand of consolation, one more suited to the exceptional times we're living through. Just five days ago the Governor of Illinois Rod Blagojevich was arrested by the FBI for blatant acts of political corruption only matched by the blatancy of his recorded phone conversations. (His wife's were no church picnic either.) Then yesterday came the news of former Nasdaq chairman Bernard Maddoff's unprecedented $50 billion Ponzi scheme, embroiling some of the country's and indeed the world's most prestigious investors, hedge funds and philanthropies. Whereas Blagojevich had been under investigation for years, Maddoff appears to have flown essentially under the official radar until the recent financial crisis made his historic fraud too hard to hide.

Homecoming puppies are adorable but when we're all hurting and confused nothing succeeds like schadenfreude. The stories of these two men provide precious journalistic theater in a time of troubles, holding a mirror up to our current economic and political disasters but reflecting them in a form everyone can enjoy (at least if you weren't investing with Maddoff). Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus - just don't ask how he funds his operations.