Wealth Porn

Rolls Royce front end, 1938 PIII, 10-28-91 AP

This commentary was written by CBSNews.com's Dick Meyer.
Behind every liberal rich-person basher lurks a rich-person gawker. Or at least most of the time.

The New York Times has been running an impressive, book-length series of articles about class in America. Some of them have been riveting as well as "important." But I'd bet a Rolex that the most popular of the nine pieces published thus far was the front page story that ran Sunday, June 5, headlined, "Old Nantucket Warily Meets the New."

It's all about how the new "hyper-rich" have taken the island over from the old rich. It's a great and grotesque piece.

Accompanying it is a wonkish but equally impressive look at how these "hyper-rich" people, those earning about $1.6 million a year or more annually, are leaving even the regular rich in the dust. The amount of national treasure consumed by the top 0.1 percent of taxpayers has grown to levels not seen since the Roaring '20s.

This is also a terrific piece.

But cruise around the rest of this Sunday's Times and what you'll find is a whole lot of what can only be called wealth porn. There are voyeuristic, detailed, titillating accounts of the doings and digs of the rich and well-groomed all over the paper. It's like that every Sunday. This week it was jarring because of the stories I just mentioned. I think that's called cognitive dissonance.

It is precisely the same cognitive dissonance that allowed the Democratic Party to nominate John Kerry and John Edwards - combined net worth, about $1 billion - to bash the rich, bemoan the split of the "two Americas" and beat up on George and Dick for being pals of the rich. When the rich, or those profiting from the rich, condemn other, less enlightened rich people, skin crawls. And many Americans - to the chagrin of Democrats, Marxists and Europeans - tend not to begrudge the rich and hyper-rich their riches.

Back to the Sunday Times, the single greatest current events icon in the East Coast, Blue State urban, moneyed and intellectual world. If anything creates water-cooler buzz in this orbit, it's the Sunday Times. It is also the greatest purveyor of super high-class, wealth porn there is and it's blessed with the imprimatur of news, sociology and high purpose.

  • Dick Meyer

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