Hooked on Shame Ellen Goodman

BOSTON — Things being what they are, I’m delighted when any newspaper is hiring. And when someone lands a job in journalism, I’m ready to pop the cork. But I find it hard to swallow champagne when the New York Post signs on Ashley Dupre.

Ms. Dupre, you may recall, was the prostitute in the scandal that brought down New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer and threw another stand-by-her-man wife onto the pyre. At that time, the Post ran a one-word headline: “Hooked.” Now they have hired the hooker to be an advice columnist. This is like hiring Bernie Madoff as a personal finance columnist.

In a girly voiced introductory video, she chirps, “Hi, I’m Ashley Dupre. I used to be on the front page of the New York Post, now I’m writing for it.” You go girl? “Is your daughter on a dangerous path? Is there a telltale sign that your husband isn’t happy in his marriage? Readers, fire away. Take it from me, someone who could have used a little advice in the past: There’s nothing better than learning from someone else’s experiences.”

I may be a cynic, but somehow I don’t think the Post was motivated by a desire to reform a wayward (call) girl. Dupre’s second act isn’t reformation. It’s confirmation, if we needed it, that there’s no shame in the game.

“Shame on you” is not a phrase that trips off my lips. I am not yet a little old lady in tennis shoes waving my umbrella at the decline and fall of decency. The Post’s employment standards are not a whole lot lower than those of Harvard University, whose ethics center invited Spitzer to speak.

Furthermore, this is not actually the scandal of moment. The winner of that cup is Tiger Woods, and the cascading number of women on his scorecard. We have paparazzi zooming in on Elin’s empty wedding-ring finger. We have columnists writing about how we shouldn’t be writing about it. We have readers tut-tutting about gossip-mongers while displaying a detailed knowledge about the 9-iron that came into contact with the Escalade.

But while Tiger is sequestered at home running through his text messages and watching his image handicap soar, the “other women” have paid no price. In fact, some are being paid a price. They are not worrying about hiding their heads. Or many other body parts.

If, as anthropologists say, shame comes from a violation of cultural norms, it seems to have found its match in a newer cultural norm: fame. Notoriety isn’t so notorious anymore. If Hester Prynne were around, she wouldn’t be the subject of a novel, she’d be the author of a tell-all memoir with cell phone pictures of a buff Arthur Dimmesdale.

But enough about sex and shameless. How about money? While Dupre was making her debut, eyes were turned on Wall Street bankers. As President Obama said on “60 Minutes,” “I did not run for office to be helping out a bunch of fat-cat bankers.” The bankers who were too big to fail took the TARP money, ran, then paid much of it back so they could return to their boffo bonus ways. They are the latest incarnation of CEOs who get paid for nonperformance and masters of the universe convinced they deserve to be on the right side of the escalating pay gap.

When 12 bankers were invited to the White House woodshed Monday, three didn’t make it. Bad weather delayed their flights. Well, I have one word for those bankers: Amtrak.

Yes, adultery is easier to grasp than credit-default swaps. Tiger Woods, Eliot Spitzer and John Edwards are better known than Lloyd Blankfein, John Mack and Richard Parsons (Google them!). But here’s another word for the bailout babies: shameless.

Shame, we are told, is a self-conscious emotion. But money ranks up there with fame as a self-deceptive shield. I’m no Miss Manners, but if there is any cultural norm left, it’s that you don’t do well by doing others harm.

For a time, we had a rash of “shaming sentences” from judges. One ordered an abusive dad to sleep in a doghouse. Another ordered a teen to wear a sign reading, “I am a juvenile criminal.” But today we have a couple crashing the White House to get on reality TV and a parade of “other women” in the spotlight bragging they had Tiger by the tail.

And, of course, there’s our gal Ashley Dupre offering her talents as an, um, escort through this cultural thicket. Dear Editor: Isn’t this what they call a crying shame?