Opinion

Felix Salmon

Ben Stein’s sleazy paymasters, cont.

Felix Salmon
Nov 18, 2009 14:36 UTC

Flâneur points me to the 35-page staff report for Jay Rockefeller on “Aggressive Sales Tactics on the Internet”. It concentrates on three extremely sleazy companies, all based in Norwalk, Connecticut: Affinion, Webloyalty, and our old friends Vertrue, the employers of Ben Stein. Here’s a typical datapoint:

In discussing methods for reducing the cost associated with the call centers, Vertrue employees estimated that it received “7 million customer calls per year” and that “cancellation calls represent approximately 98% of call volume”.

In general, the customers of these companies have no idea that they’re customers until they discover mysterious charges on their credit-card bills. When they investigate further, they find that during the checkout process at reputable websites like priceline.com or 1800flowers.com, they inadvertently clicked on a link which automatically gave their credit card details to these rip-off merchants.

Why would otherwise-admirable websites get into bed with these creatures? Here’s a hint:

cpm.tiff

No, those aren’t misprints: we’re genuinely talking here about CPMs in the thousands of dollars. (A typical internet banner ad pays CPMs in the single digits; at a high-prestige website appealing to rich individuals, it might get into the $30-$40 range. But never anything remotely like this.)

The money being made in these scams is enormous:

Financial information provided to the Committee by the companies shows that Affinion, Vertrue, and Webloyalty and their e-commerce partners have generated over $1.4 billion in revenue from Internet consumers who have been charged for membership programs. Of the   $1.4 billion in total revenue, $792 million went to the e-commerce companies that partnered with Affinion, Vertrue, and Webloyalty.

The websites and e-retailers that have partnered with Affinion, Vertrue, and Webloyalty include some of the most well-known and high-traffic e-commerce websites on the Internet. They include travel sites, airline sites, electronics sites, movie ticket sites, and the websites for popular “brick and mortar” companies. Eighty-eight e-retailers have made more than $1 million through partnering with Affinion, Vertrue, and Webloyalty and, of the 88, 19 companies have made more than $10 million. Classmates.com, which has been partnered with each company at different times and has earned more than any other partner, generated approximately $70 million in revenue.

And where’s the money going? Primarily, it turns out, to private equity:

In 2001, Cendant rebranded its membership club unit as “Trilegiant” and, in 2005, sold it to Apollo Management, a New York-based private-equity group, which in turn renamed the company Affinion…

Webloyalty is owned by the Greenwich, Connecticut private-equity group, General Atlantic, LLC…

In 2004, MemberWorks changed its name to Vertrue. Three years later, in 2007, Vertrue was de-listed and sold for approximately $800 million to a group of private equity investors led by One Equity Partners, the private equity arm of J.P. Morgan.

These are big, reputable private-equity shops: what are they doing in this ultra-sleazy world of making money off unsuspecting dupes by exploiting loopholes online? In the real world, vendors can’t take your credit-card information and “data pass” it to someone else with minimal disclosure, but that’s still legal on the internet. As the report notes,

Affinion, Vertrue and Webloyalty use aggressive sales tactics intentionally designed to mislead online shoppers… While Congress and the Federal Trade Commission have taken steps to curb similar abusive practices in telemarketing, there has not yet been any action to protect consumers while they are shopping online.

I wonder whether anybody at JP Morgan knows or cares that its private equity arm is paying large sums of money to predatory bait-and-switch merchant Ben Stein in an attempt to boost the amount of money misleadingly extracted from individuals who can least afford it. And I wonder too how and why all these companies have ended up in private-equity hands. Is it because private companies don’t need to answer to the public in the same way that public companies do?

COMMENT

I was victimized last year by one of these innocuous looking ‘click here’ subscription ads on the Orbitz website. I discovered four months of charges on my billing after the fact. After strenuously complaining to Orbitz the charges were refunded. I now refuse to visit the Orbitz site and am very watchful of all others.

Posted by Gnarly Erik | Report as abusive

Ben Stein’s antagonist is not a gangster

Felix Salmon
Oct 7, 2009 14:14 UTC

Remember the desperate lawsuit launched by Adaptive Marketing, Ben Stein’s sleazy paymasters, trying to uncover the identity of a critical blogger? The good news is that it’s been dropped:

Plaintiff Adaptive Marketing LLC (“Adaptive”) gives notice that this action appears to have become moot and, accordingly, it is hereby withdrawing this action as to all parties without costs to any party. The clerk may mark this matter “withdrawn.”

The better news is that Adaptive seem to be disappearing down a crazy rabbit hole:

Adaptive believes that it has discovered the name and address of the person in question, thereby mooting this action… The name and address discovered by Adaptive are as follows:

Franklin Seegers
1266 Morse Street, N.E.
Apt. #306
Washington, D.C. 20002

Franklin Seegers, as a minute’s Googling will reveal, is an inmate of Butner Federal Correctional Complex in North Carolina, having been given a 40-year sentence in 2006 for his role in a violent drug gang known as Murder Inc. I don’t know who “flâneur de fraude” is, but I’m quite sure that it’s not Seegers. Still, I hope that Adaptive spend lots of time and money trying to serve a lawsuit on Seegers claiming defamation. This could be very funny indeed.

COMMENT

Hey Felix,

I think “Front Row Washington” has my identity on a “don’t post this guy’s opinions” list. If you have any contact with their editorial decision makers, tell them censorship is really cool if you’re 1939 Germany.

Or,, just tell them to kiss my ass!

Posted by Unemployed | Report as abusive

Ben Stein’s sleazy paymasters

Felix Salmon
Sep 18, 2009 01:22 UTC

Ben Stein’s paymasters Adaptive Marketing, the owners of freescore.com, aren’t just predatory bait-and-switch merchants. They’re also litigious bullies.

An anonymous blogger, going by the name “flâneur de fraude”, added a lot of corporate information to my Ben Stein post, mostly about Adaptive Marketing’s owner, Vertrue Inc. It was interesting stuff, and I linked to it, and that seemed to be the end of that. Certainly no one at Adaptive or Vertrue ever tried to get in touch with me or with Flâneur.

Then, out of the blue, Adaptive filed a lawsuit in Connecticut, of all places, saying that the allegation that they were running a predatory bait-and-switch campaign was actionable on the the grounds of “defamation, trade libel, and tortious interference with contractual relations and business expectancies”. I’ve uploaded a copy of the suit here. There’s lots of stuff around it, but the complaint itself is only three pages long, and doesn’t even allege that anything Flâneur wrote was false.

The really weird thing about the lawsuit, however, was the defendant: not Reuters, not Flâneur, but Yahoo. The suit wasn’t a libel suit at all, you see: it was just a way of trying to get Flâneur’s real name out of Yahoo. (She uses an email address at yahoo.com.)

When Yahoo didn’t turn up to the court hearing 2,576 miles away from its headquarters, the Connecticut Superior Court found in favor of Adaptive, and said that Yahoo would have to turn up in court on September 21, presumptively to reveal Flâneur’s identity.

At that point, Flâneur sprung into action, and got the Public Citizen Litigation Group involved. They have now filed a monster 43-page brief with the Connecticut court, and after reading it one has difficulty imagining that any judge will compel Yahoo to unmask Flâneur. Public Citizen’s press release is here, and the headline sums it up: the blogger who criticized freescore.com, it says, has the right to remain anonymous.

Adaptive has never complained to Flâneur, to me, or to anybody else, as far as I can tell, about any of our characterizations of their business. They never asked for any of our blog entries to be updated or edited, and they were conspicuous by their absence during the brouhaha over Ben Stein. If they had any problem with the blog entries, that was the time to say so — not now, when the whole episode is already half-forgotten.

Instead, knowing that Flâneur values her anonymity, they decided to try to unmask her in Connecticut court. I hope and trust that now, with the intervention of Public Citizen, they will fail miserably.

COMMENT

I just got taken by those guys too. They promise a free credit report, but charge $60 to the credit card anyway after seven days. Since Bank of America doesn’t consider them fraudulent, it refused to protect me against further charges. As a result, I was forced to cancel by Bank of America credit card to prevent future unwanted charges.

Posted by Brian | Report as abusive

Ben Stein and the plight of the upper-middle-class parent

Felix Salmon
Sep 2, 2009 16:46 UTC

Now that he’s been fired from the New York Times, Ben Stein has popped up as a “contributor” to Fortune, of all places. (I’m not sure that “thank” is the right word, but I found out about this from Dan Gross.)

Stein’s first column there is a doozy:

Thanks to a variety of factors, often parents have to struggle like galley slaves to get their offspring into private schools and pay for them…

Then there is college and a real course in horrors getting the darling in somewhere that won’t embarrass you in front of your pals at the club. That’s before paying for the school, which is a stunning slap in the face. Total college costs at a “prestige” school can easily touch $70,000 a year, real money for most people.

Words fail me when it comes to Stein’s description of $70,000 a year as “real money for most people”. But apart from that, he has a point. The plight of today’s upper-middle-class parent is exactly analogous to that of a 16th-Century prisoner in France, condemned to a decade or more of working in the nation’s war galleys.

Hell, the galley salves of old had it easy: they didn’t need to worry about “ballet, horse, and music lessons, math tutoring, and chess club”, let alone “the ‘play dates’ that lurk like unanesthetized colonoscopies in modern life”. (Note the utter horror embedded in the term “play dates” — Stein can only bring himself to use it when it’s encased safely in a prophylactic set of scare-quotes.)

This is an old theme of Stein’s: back in his NYT days, he spoke of himself as a latter-day Willy Loman (apparently they have “heavy bags” in common):

“ `Attention must be paid,’ as Arthur Miller said. So start now, and make it a habit to be grateful to your parents. Say you’re grateful and mean it. Do it now, however young or old you are. Do it on Father’s Day, Mother’s Day, every day.”

Stein is clearly not a happy parent, the evidence of his book on fatherhood notwithstanding. But even a man as narcissistic as Stein must surely realize that kids never beg their parents to work harder so that they can go to private school or ballet lessons; and they surely don’t fret about whether their choice of university might embarrass their father in front of his “pals at the club”. (Some pals Stein has.)

Any parent who so chooses — especially any upper-middle-class parent — can at any time opt out of private-school rat race, spend a fraction of those tuition fees on books and travel and fun, and work less hard, if they want, now that their annual expenses have dropped sharply from private-school territory. (Working less hard, of course, means spending more time with your kids, which is also a good thing.) No child will ever object to any parent making such a decision.

Yet somehow Stein has convinced himself that all parents who choose otherwise somehow deserve their children’s unending gratitude for making that choice. Indeed, he doesn’t seem to think that it’s much of a choice at all, and that the costs of private school are so high that would-be parents of a certain class are actually choosing to get German shorthaired pointers instead. (Of course, it says everything about Stein and nothing about today’s parents that he thinks that dogs can and do replace children.)

Stein even ends up declaring that this whole working-hard-to-pay-school-fees phenomenon is so dreadfully pervasive that it bodes ill for the entire future of the country:

It’s happening right now. The native-born upper middle class barely replace themselves in America, if they do at all. In a way we are committing suicide as a class, possibly in part because of the burdens of child rearing in modern life.

I love that idea of “committing suicide as a class”, as though there’s any evidence at all that the “native-born upper middle class” is shrinking. (It isn’t, and why does it matter anyway if a member of the upper-middle classes is native-born or not?) It used to be that the American Dream involved being born poor and making it rich: clearly for Stein that doesn’t really count: all he cares about is the people who are born rich and succeed in breeding rich offspring.

Maybe, if those offspring are spectacularly successful, they too can be described in Fortune magazine in tones like this:

Ben Stein is an actor, lawyer, writer, and economist who also appears in commercials as a spokesman for various companies.

You go, Fortune. Now that you’ve disclosed something so vague as to be utterly meaningless, there can’t be any conflict of interest over the fact that Stein is a paid shill for an evil and predatory company. Maybe you should sign up the Cash4Gold guys next.

COMMENT

l’ Upper Middle class c’est moi

London? London… lived there. Weather sucks, pretty much most of the time. Been several years though, might be improving with global warming. I hear chicken tikka masala is now the national dish. That would be an improvement as well.

Anyway, I sent my upper middle class kids to the local far suburb public schools, they got admitted to very good public universities, got degrees in law and science, and jobs, even in a bad economy. My wife and I were very tired of soccer by the time they graduated tho..

Anyway, we put the money we didn’t spend on ed into retirement accounts and eventually retired early, so public education works fine for me.

@felix should try some of that because Ben S IS TRYING TO GET A REACTION BY BEING PROVOCATIVE BECAUSE IT INCREASES HIS READERSHIP. Seems to be working too, sort of like Obama and Rush Limbaugh.

Posted by ARJTurgot | Report as abusive

Ben Stein’s ethical lapse

Felix Salmon
Aug 17, 2009 15:40 UTC

Edward Wasserman, who glories in the title of Knight professor of journalism ethics at Washington and Lee University, has mounted a weird half-hearted defense of Ben Stein in the Miami Herald. Yes, he says, Stein’s columns were “windy and self-indulgent”. But there was no ethical wrongdoing on Stein’s part, and the NYT was wrong to say that there was ethical wrongdoing when it fired him.

This jibes with Ben Stein’s own self-defense, in which he said that he “didn’t do anything wrong”. But it’s Stein and Wasserman who are wrong here, on multiple levels.

Firstly, and most importantly, it’s ethically wrong for anybody, NYT columnist or otherwise, to shill for FreeScore. It’s an evil company, devoted to tricking America’s poorest, most indebted, and most financially illiterate citizens into paying money they can’t afford for a service they don’t need and which is available for free elsewhere. The job of a business columnist is to write columns in the public interest. The job of a FreeScore pitchman is most emphatically against the public interest. There’s your conflict right there.

But there were narrower conflicts, too, which Wasserman zeroes in on and dismisses:

Stein’s defense is that he has never written about credit ratings or about this company, therefore no conflict existed. One of his critics, the Reuters blogger Felix Salmon, offers an equally succinct counterpoint: “Stein provides financial advice in his column, and he provides financial advice in the ad.”

I’m not convinced. I pulled down four of Stein’s recent Times columns and was hard-pressed to find any whiff of financial wisdom. He seems to have styled them as ruminations on economics and public purpose. One was on the glories of salesmanship, another a look back at America’s “decline” seen from 2089. I thought they were windy and self-indulgent. But they offered me no advice, and Stein never suggested I check my credit score.

Wasserman read four columns by Ben Stein, and on the strength of those four columns concluded that Stein didn’t offer financial advice in his column? I know that journalists are lazy, but that’s really taking the biscuit. If he’s really going to imply that I was wrong when I said that Stein offers financial advice in his column, he might at least have asked me first why I said that. And it wouldn’t have taken me very long to find for instance this column, where Stein not only offers his “best advice” on investments, but even gives ticker symbols for what to buy.

Of course Stein gives financial advice: he’s written entire books of the stuff, not to mention his other media appearances and columns elsewhere. Financial advice is a huge part of Stein’s shtick, and that’s absolutely one of the reasons that FreeScore wanted to hire him: he’s known (unfortunately) as a trusted dispenser of financial advice, and so he comes with some measure of built-in credibility as a financial pitchman. His NYT column is part of what gave him that credibility. So yes, there’s a massive conflict there.

What’s more, Stein was in direct contravention of the NYT’s own ethics guidelines, which state that NYT journalists — and that term includes freelancers such as Stein — cannot perform paid PR work. How does Wasserman get around that one?

This is a guy who has been shilling for years — for nonstick cookware, paper towels, Clear Eyes and lately, alongside Shaquille O’Neal, for Comcast Cable — so he has long been on the wrong side of the PR taboo. The irony is it was undoubtedly his celebrity that commended him to The Times in the first place, a status created by his rise as a personality on TV, in movies and, yes, in commercials.

Yep, a professor of journalism ethics has managed to go on the record as defending an explicit breach of written guidelines, on the grounds that hey, the same journalist had breached those written guidelines in the past, so they can therefore be safely ignored.

Clearly Stein did get an implicit or explicit pass on the no-shilling guidelines at some point. But equally clearly the FreeScore gig was a step too far, most likely because it had such a big overlap with the subject of his column. “I’ve broken the law in the past and got away with it” is never the most convincing defense at the best of times, and in this case it’s particularly weak.

Oh, and one other thing: contra Wasserman, the NYT never actually said in as many words that the FreeScore gig “was a conflict of interest for Stein”. Here’s the official statement from NYT spokeswoman Catherine Matthis:

Ben Stein’s fine work for us as a columnist for Sunday Business had to end, we told him, after we learned that he had become a commercial spokesman for FreeScore, a financial services company. 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 NYT isn’t saying that the ad was a conflict of interest, it’s saying that it might pose a potential conflict of interest, and that it was not “appropriate” for Stein to write his column while also shilling for FreeScore. That seems entirely reasonable to me. So Wasserman’s search for “a genuine conflict of interest” is silly: why not just take the NYT’s words at face value, and admit that Stein’s position as a financial columnist was rife with potential conflicts of interest.

What’s more, Wasserman’s definition of “conflict of interest” is ridiculously narrow:

It describes a particular situation in which a journalist has some undisclosed outside loyalty, commitment, affiliation or obligation that might plausibly influence his judgment and tilt his work to satisfy this off-stage constituency.

Undisclosed? Is he serious? Does the Knight professor of journalism ethics at Washington and Lee University really think that journalists can accept any amount of money from any constituency — even within their own beat — and that’s fine so long as they disclose it? Maybe if he does then it’s easier to see why he agrees with Stein that there was no ethical lapse in this case. But it’s also easy to see why the likes of the NYT shouldn’t pay him much attention.

COMMENT

You need to make your case that this particular company, not its parent company is sleazy. Stein argues that FreeScore was different.

I view Stein as an entertainer and I think most people who read is column do too.

As a moderate democrat, I think the far left wing of our party have long, long been frustrated by voices like Stein that they disagree with, and this is just an excuse to purge him from the NY Times.

Posted by bob | Report as abusive

Ben Stein whines about being fired

Felix Salmon
Aug 10, 2009 15:42 UTC

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 nytimes.com which has disappeared.)

COMMENT

don’t flatter yourself. If Ben is even aware of you, it would surprise me.

Do you ever notice that when someone of Jewish heritage posts a column all of the Jewish/Israeli haters feel entitled to spew venom en masse? Raise one question about bi-racial President Obama however and you are a racist. What ever happened to this country and the freedoms of tasteful discourse?

Posted by beebop | Report as abusive

Ben Stein finally Expelled from NY Times

Felix Salmon
Aug 7, 2009 11:54 UTC

You’ll forgive me if I take some small measure of credit for this one: after something in the region of 35,000 words of the Ben Stein Watch, the world’s worst financial columnist has finally been fired from the New York Times. And I couldn’t be happier. The reason was his appearance in commercials for (and on the homepage of) freescore.com, a sleazy company which exists only to extract large sums of money from those who can least afford it.

NYT spokeswoman Catherine Mathis confirmed this, telling Gawker that “Ben Stein’s fine work for us as a columnist for Sunday Business had to end, we told him, after we learned that he had become a commercial spokesman for FreeScore, a financial services company.”

I’m thinking celebratory Champagne at the Oyster Bar this lunchtime. It is an August Friday, after all. Anybody care to join?

Update: Yes, I’m serious. Oyster Bar, Grand Central Terminal, 1pm. I’ll be the one looking a bit like this.

COMMENT

My goodness. Who made you guys so cruel to all life? Yeah, if you happen to like fall into a stinky swap and get covered by leaches and other parasites, why instead of respecting THEIR rights to life and nurturing them with your own blood and flesh you like burn them away and get rid of them and stuff.

Parasites are people too ya know…

Posted by Anonymous | Report as abusive

Gasparino’s bizarre defense of Goldman Sachs (and Ben Stein)

Felix Salmon
Aug 3, 2009 13:54 UTC

Charlie Gasparino knows that a well-argued print column is a much better tool for building credibility than any number of high-volume television appearances. Unfortunately, he seems to have a problem with the “well-argued” bit:

If AIG is imploding and you’re the government and you need help restructuring the company or figuring out ways the government can fix the problem, Goldman is a good place to start. Of course the firm had conflicts of interest—given its exposure to AIG insured debt and all its connections in government—but so did just about everyone else in this sordid mess, and at least the guys at Goldman are smart as hell. … (Ben Stein, it should be pointed out, once made a far more reasoned and persuasive attack against the firm in a column suggesting that Goldman had used its research to drive down the subprime market when it put on the short sale).

First, Goldman’s exposure/conflict when it came to AIG was a lot bigger than anybody else’s. The Goldman chaps may or may not have been “smart as hell”, but they were in a pretty pickle when it came to their $13 billion AIG exposure, and they really should have been barred from advising the government on AIG. Instead, as Joe Hagan puts it, they were “on every side of the large conference table, with triple the number of representatives as other banks” when the decision to bail out AIG was made. Yes, the other banks might have been conflicted, but they weren’t as conflicted as Goldman. And they weren’t nearly as zealous as Goldman when it came to lobbying the government to get what they wanted, either.

Second, just because its partners are “smart as hell”, in the words of TED, “doesn’t mean that Goldman Sachs isn’t out to get you.” Indeed, quite the opposite. That’s how they make their billions.

And most importantly, anybody who calls Ben Stein’s December 2007 column “reasoned and persuasive” is on crack. Obviously, I didn’t think much of it. But don’t take my word for it: ask Paul Krugman, Dean Baker, Yves Smith, Roger Ehrenberg, Brad DeLong, Calculated Risk, Chew Your Grouse, Ryan Avent, Talking Biz News, John Gapper, Mark Thoma, Herb Greenberg, or any of many others, including pretty much everybody at DealBreaker including John Carney (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6).

One of the more notable aspects of Matt Taibbi’s attack on Goldman Sachs is that although at first glance it looked as though he was taking an everything-and-the-kitchen-sink approach, in fact he stopped short of reiterating the craziest conspiracy theories, such as those of Ben Stein. If Gasparino chooses to take aim at Taibbi while defending Stein, he’s doomed to be considered as a blowhard at best, and a laughingstock at worst.

COMMENT

Let’s see, Gasparino is wrong about Heidi Taibbi because Gasparino is wrong about Ben Stein. A tad illogical.

As far as I can see, the 12.9 billion was a square deal. Maybe if I took some LSD I would see what all the conspiracy theorists are seeing.

Economics of Contempt, the dizzy media could really use you.

Posted by JCH | Report as abusive

The despicable Ben Stein

Felix Salmon
Jul 27, 2009 19:15 UTC

How low can Ben Stein get? Well, we know he’ll sell himself to sleazy rip-off merchants if the price is right. But now he’s penned an anti-Obama column for The American Spectator which is so despicable that it fairly takes one’s breath away.

Stein calls Obama an “anti-white” “ultra-leftist”; he says that the magna cum laude editor of the Harvard Law Review and University of Chicago professor has “total zero of an academic record” and a “complete lack of scholarship”; he claims Obama “has given Iran the go-ahead to have nuclear weapons” and wants “active destruction of our interests and our allies and our future”. Oh, and Obama “urgently” wants to “take away our freedoms”, because he “knows Americans are getting wise and will stop him if he delays at all”.

This is the kind of stuff which, if it was written by a left-wing commentator about a Republican president, would have Stein screaming about “treason”. It’s also the kind of thing which should automatically disqualify Stein from writing for the New York Times — as if his creationist propaganda and insane conspiracy-mongering weren’t reason enough. But I’ve given up hope at this point. I don’t know what Stein did to make himself untouchable at the NYT, but it was surely extremely effective. What’s sure is that the Sulzbergers and all other NYT stakeholders should be desperately ashamed at this point that they have anything to do with the man.

(HT: Gross)

COMMENT

@Sterling

“I think Stein is very perceptive and has a long record of being right about a lot of things.”

Such as the economy being “very strong” right before the global collapse?

Aha.

Posted by sigh | Report as abusive
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