Gawker scoops that The New York Times has finally given its Sunday Business columnist Ben Stein the ol’ heave-ho, after an incredibly dumb ethical lapse last month.
Reuters’ Felix Salmon, a longtime Stein foe, was the first to point out that the actor/columnist/emcee/Nixon speechwriter/”Bueller… Bueller” guy had sold out to a company called freescore.com, appearing in TV ads promoting the morally dubious service.
Gawker quotes Times spokeswoman Catherine Mathis (who wouldn’t return my requests for comment a few weeks ago—thanks, Catherine! Have fun with your new job flacking those other hard-to-defend credit-rating firms) saying “Ben didn’t understand when he signed on with FreeScore that this might pose a potential conflict for him as a contributing columnist for the Times, because he hadn’t written about credit scores or this company. But, we decided that being a commercial spokesman for FreeScore while writing his column wouldn’t be appropriate.”
The Times clearly made the right call here, if it did take them a bit too long (at least three weeks) to pull the trigger.
First, it’s a point-blank breach of the Times’s own code of conduct, not to mention common-sense journalism standards.
Second, Stein was shilling for a company that tricks consumers into paying money they don’t need to pay for a service they don’t need to have. The new credit-card bill regulates this stuff, requiring these companies to say that the only place to get a really free report is at AnnualCreditReport.com.
Good riddance, Ben. Take a victory lap, Felix.
Now the question is: Who will get his plum Sunday business column in the NYT?Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.