Ben Stein Watch, lawsuit edition

By Felix Salmon
January 12, 2012
Yoree Koh (and @Dutch_Book) for bringing Ben Stein's lawsuit against Kyocera to my attention.

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Many thanks to Yoree Koh (and @Dutch_Book) for bringing Ben Stein’s lawsuit against Kyocera to my attention. You can download the whole thing here, but it’s worth spelling out some of the more hilarious parts.

The whole suit is ludicrous, of course: Stein is claiming breach of a nonexistent contract. (The closest thing the suit comes to saying that there was any contract at all is the part when it says that Stein’s agent ,Marcia Hurwitz, “considered the deal done”. Which, obviously, she was wrong about.

The basic story is simple. Kyocera wanted to hire Stein to do some TV commercials, but the company is very environmentally conscious, and it decided not to use him after learning of his anti-science views on global warming.

Stein somehow manages to turn this into a question of religious freedom, claiming that Kyocera’s refusal to let him pitch their products constitutes “wrongful discharge in violation of fundamental public policy”:

Ben Stein said he was by no means certain that global warming was man-made, a position held by many scientists and political conservatives. He also told Hurwitz to inform defendants that as a matter of religious belief, he believed that God, and not man, controlled the weather…

A host of federal laws protects Americans from being discriminated against on the basis of religious belief. Neither employees nor independent contractors already hired may be dismissed on the basis of their religious views.

Ben Stein’s questioning of whether man makes the weather or God makes the weather is a matter of his religious belief. For him to be fired because of his religious belief is a clear case of discrimination against him for religious belief in violation of state and federal law.

A word to the wise, Ben: you weren’t fired for your religious beliefs. Indeed, in a world where it’s hard to get a large group of rabbis to agree on the day of the week, the Jewish religion’s views on the subject of global warming are very clear. Consider this letter, for instance, signed by more than 600 rabbis:

We have established Interfaith Climate and Energy campaigns in 21 states that are educating congregations on the link between energy conservation and renewable energy sources that benefit climate change reduction…

We have longstanding distress about other health and environmental effects of energy policy, including global climate change…

The same energy policies that will help achieve peace for humankind by reducing our dependence on oil will create greater harmony within creation by protecting the environment.

Here’s much more detail on the question of Jewish attitudes to global warming, summed up by saying that

we must take responsibility for maintaining and preserving G-d’s Creation not only for the here and now, but also for the benefit of posterity. This is something that must be taken very seriously, and we are required to follow the guidance of the experts in taking practical measures of conservation and preservation to save the world from irresponsible and destructive consumption.

Needless to say, the idea that the weather is controlled by God, and that therefore it is unaffected by human behavior, appears nowhere in any Jewish teachings I can find. And Stein is quite explicit about being a Jew, having decided to play that card in his execrable documentary about Darwinism.

Stein’s also upset that Kyocera took issue with “statements widely attributed to him that appear on the web”. He replies, in the complaint, that this “means anonymous, unsupported gossip about a famous person”. Which it almost certainly doesn’t. I’m something of an expert on statements widely attributed to Ben Stein: none of that gossip is anonymous, and nearly all of it is very carefully supported. With, for example, video, of Stein himself saying, very clearly, that a big speech by Barack Obama’s was “scarily authoritarian” and “something the Führer would have done”.

But my favorite bit of the complaint is where he complains that the ad which did end up running, featuring Peter Morici, is “an explicit misappropriation of Ben Stein’s likeness and persona, which is an explicit violation of Ben Stein’s rights of privacy and of publicity, barred by California law”.

In other words, this ad, while it might look to all the world as though it features a real economist who’s much more qualified on such matters than Ben Stein, is in fact an illegal violation of Ben Stein’s privacy, which uses the likeness of Ben Stein. Maybe Stein thinks that Morici should wear a long blonde wig, or something, to make him look less Stein-esque?

The irony here is that this man — someone who’s so worried about his privacy that he appears on TV every opportunity he gets — has to give the address of his four-bedroom, 3,821 square-foot Beverly Hills mansion on the final page of his legal complaint. Maybe the main effect of this suit is that he’ll get added, now, to one of those Los Angeles bus tours of the residences of the rich and clueless.


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Thanks for this, Felix. I’ve missed the Ben Stein Watch since you dropped it.

Posted by Curmudgeon | Report as abusive

His hilarious film ‘Expelled’ uses much the same type of reasoning. It is disturbing to see so clearly that this is simply his mode of thinking; it seems borderline(?) disturbed and paranoid.

Posted by dcunning11235 | Report as abusive

The resurrection of “Ben Stein Watch” is a welcome counterpoint to Stein’s slack jawed question, “How can life come from nonlife?” Apparently, creationists are akin to viruses – that exist somewhere between being alive and not – in striving for and yet not having a productive career. Oh, and Peter is not wearing tennis shoes nor speaking in a monotone, so Stein’s complaint there is also, ahem, dead in the water. How can a living lawsuit come from (like the universe) nothing? Anyone? Anyone? Ben?

Posted by Kohoutek | Report as abusive

Having tour busses stop at Stein’s house is wishful thinking, Felix… He is batshit crazy, but there are are far crazier and far prettier people’s homes for those busses to stop at. Hopefully, some wonky rich kids will just egg the thing.

Posted by MRLAMF | Report as abusive

My goodness. A 4-bedroom, 3821 sq.ft. “mansion”

Is Ben Stein’s problem that he is middle-class?

And we all know that you can’t trust the middle class.

Posted by rajpe | Report as abusive

In my religion, I believe that Aslan, Lion King of all Narnia, commands us to come into work completely drunk. It is on such grounds that I am protesting against my employer for dismissing me from their employment.

Posted by theamblerx | Report as abusive

I like the preaching of brother theamblerx. That’s spirituality we can all get behind.

But really, in the crazy world in which Stein’s complaint is upheld, is there actually any reason you couldn’t claim a work dismissal is unfair based on your religious preferences? For example, I belief that internal combustion is the result of hardworking leprechauns, and therefore Ford was wrong to push me out of their engineering department. Bloody atheists.

Posted by strawman | Report as abusive

You can’t fire me! I’m Ben Stein! This is the only gig I got!

Posted by AlkalineState | Report as abusive

“… he believed that God, and not man, controlled the weather.”
Under normal circumstances, of course, that would be true. However, we must consider the new theory that global warming in causing hell to freeze over. The latest research is reported at http://www.theneogeotheothermaltheorysoc

Posted by JaggedGently | Report as abusive

I got a real sense of the man after hearing him sniff “$70,ooo is real money for many people.” It was said in the context of college tuition. The implication being that it was a trivial amount for a man like himself. And then he went on to pitch a dodgy credit score monitoring scheme for the rest of masses.

Posted by IntoTheTardis | Report as abusive

I was raised southern Baptist and Kyocera never even contacted me about doing a commercial for them, so he may be on to something.

Posted by RynoM | Report as abusive

The guy works for Nixon and then says everyone is picking on him for being a devout Jew, from a Führer-like Obama on down. The man is a cartoon character.

Posted by Bagehot | Report as abusive

The only possible response from Kyocera is to declare itself a church. Then it can discriminate all it wants.

Posted by jbernar | Report as abusive

Peter Morici is, in those commercials, clearly supposed to look like the late Paul Samuelson. To judge the resemblance for yourself, his photo is easy enough to find on the web, for instance at this URL: blog/2009/12/paul-samuelson.html

Generations learned economics from the many editions of Samuelson’s textbook, so a visage like that must still have seemed natural for the role. Maybe Stein was originally in the running because with just a little make-up work he could be made to look like Samuelson too.

Posted by Pragmatist58 | Report as abusive