Ben Stein whines about being fired

By Felix Salmon
August 10, 2009
Ben Stein's account of his defenestration from the NYT. The main one is that, contra all appearances, he really was edited there:

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There are a couple of noteworthy nuggets in Ben Stein’s whiny account of his defenestration from the NYT. The main one is that, contra all appearances, he really was edited there:

I started criticizing Mr. Obama quite sharply over his policies and practices. I had tried to do this before over the firing of Rick Wagoner from the Chairmanship of GM. My column had questioned whether there was a legal basis for the firing by the government, what law allowed or authorized the federal government to fire the head of what was then a private company, and just where the Obama administration thought their limits were, if anywhere. This column was flat out nixed by my editors at the Times because in their opinion Mr. Obama inherently had such powers.

Stein is, of course, a highly unreliable narrator here. But I do believe that there was some mechanism by which he would run proposed columns by an editor before writing them. If that’s the case, however, then how come the columns themselves showed no sign of being edited?

Stein also insists on characterizing FreeScore, the sleazy bait-and-switch merchant he’s appearing in ads for, as “an Internet aggregating company”. He writes:

This commercial was red meat for the Ben Stein haters left over from the Expelled days. They bombarded the Times with letters. They confused (or some of them seemingly confused ) FreeScore with other companies that did not have FreeScore’s unblemished record with consumer protection agencies. (FreeScore has a perfect record.) They demanded of the high pooh-bahs at the Times that they fire me because of what they called a conflict of interest.

Of course, there was no conflict of interest. I had never written one word in the Times or anywhere else about getting credit scores on line. Not a word.

But somehow, these people bamboozled some of the high pooh-bahs at the Times into thinking there was a conflict of interest. In an e-mail sent to me by a person I had never met nor even heard of, I was fired. (I read the e-mail while having pizza at the Seattle airport on my way to Sandpoint.) I called the editor and explained the situation. He said the problem was “the appearance” of conflict of interest. I asked how that could be when I never wrote about the subject at all. He said the real problem was that FreeScore was a major financial company and I wrote about finance. But, as I told him, FreeScore was a small Internet aggregator, not a bank or insurer.

Stein should read this if he genuinely believes that FreeScore “has a perfect record”. And he should also read the NYT’s ethics guidelines, which say that “it is an inherent conflict for a journalist to perform public relations work, paid or unpaid”.

Besides, of course there’s a conflict here: Stein provides financial advice in his column, and he provides financial advice in the ad. FreeScore isn’t an “internet aggregator”, it’s a way of tricking people into paying money they can’t afford for a service they don’t need.

The best bit of the Stein column, however, comes at the end:

It’s sad that the Internet has become a backyard gossip freeway for the whole world’s sick people to pour out their neuroses. I have seen a tiny fraction of all of the hate mail that’s come in the wake of the NY Times announcement (which they promised they would not make in any event). Too many sick people out there on the web for comfort.

Sick people? Does Stein mean me? Should I be flattered? But also, it’s interesting that the NYT promised Stein that they wouldn’t announce his being fired. That only serves to underscore how much of a scoop Ryan Tate had when he not only learned that Stein had been fired but also got the NYT to confirm it. Many congratulations to him. I wonder how long it took for the news to reach Gawker.

(HT: Roush, via Chittum)

Update: I’ve just noted that the Ben Stein page on the NYT website has been completely deleted. If you try to go there by clicking on the byline of one of his columns, you just get a blank page. Stein is now an unperson at the NYT!

(To clarify: Stein’s archived columns are still there. It’s just his personal webpage on which has disappeared.)


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