In our squeamish times, it's almost impossible to find an unalloyed villain suitable for unrestrained abuse. There are, of course, the three stooges of the Axis of Evil -- Saddam, Ahmadinejad of Iran and wacky Kim of North Korea -- and Osama bin Laden. But here at home, today's rainbow of sensitivities grants almost every American immunity. And then there's Kenneth J. Lay.
"Kenny Boy's" fatal heart attack is a boon to tabloid character assassins: a dead, (once) rich white man from Texas who is also a notorious corporate crook! The magnitude of the Enron debacle makes Lay fair game -- although the worst thing the government proved against him was that he talked up the company's prospects -- and unloaded a lot of stock -- even as the ship was going down.
Most of the coverage I saw was sober and even-handed. Both the Wall Street Journal and The New York Times made the point that Lay's death before his sentencing and appeal voided his criminal conviction, making it harder for the government to recapture what's left of his onetime $400 million fortune. And the Journal savored the irony that Lay had transformed many of the practices of corporate America -- although not the way he intended.
But the frisky scribes at The New York Post felt on safe ground when they splashed a picture of the late, unlamented Lay on page one today next to a coffin with the deathless headline: "Before they put Cheato Lay's coffin in the ground
CHECK HE'S IN IT"
They knew they were in tabloid heaven.