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Tilting at Windmills

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August 8, 2009

WHAT IT TOOK TO GET BEN STEIN EXPELLED.... For reasons that never made any sense, Ben Stein -- yes, that Ben Stein -- has been an awful financial columnist for the New York Times for four years. This week, finally, the paper gave Stein his walking papers.

It was not, regrettably, Stein's bizarre columns that forced his ouster. It was instead his role in FreeScore commercials.

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."

Reuters' Felix Salmon can almost certainly take some credit for the development, after writing last month, "The level to which Stein has now sunk is more than enough reason -- as if the case for the prosecution weren't damning enough already -- for the NYT to cancel Stein's contract forthwith. It's simply unconscionable for a newspaper of record to employ as its 'Everybody's Business' columnist someone who is surely making a vast amount of money by luring the unsuspecting into overpaying for a financial product they should under no circumstances buy."

I vaguely recall the point, some years back, when Stein was considered something of a mainstream figure at the intersection of politics and entertainment. He'd show up as a cable news talking-head, in between Hollywood cameos and hosting a game-show. He seemed quirky, conservative, and harmless.

But as he began to focus more on his political agenda, Stein became increasingly bizarre, not only with right-wing economic commentary, but also with scurrilous attacks against modern science. It led to a pseudo-documentary attacking biology, and an infamous interview on a religious right network in which Stein told a crazed televangelist that "science leads you to killing people" and that evolution led to the Nazi Holocaust.

I'd hoped the New York Times would drop Stein's column because he's a nut, not because he's a spokesperson for some sketchy credit-score outfit, but so be it.

Steve Benen 8:50 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (19)

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Why was this guy ever famous? Wasn't his only original claim to fame being a low-level grunt in Nixon's White House? He wasn't even very good at that -- the chronicles of his fellow assholes in the administration paint him as an inept chump addicted to gossip and drama.

Posted by: shortstop on August 8, 2009 at 9:03 AM | PERMALINK

I think he's related to someone.

Posted by: Bob Johnson on August 8, 2009 at 9:11 AM | PERMALINK

To answer shortstop's question, it seems to be another case of wingnut nepotism (cf: Kristol, Bill; Goldberg, Jonah; et nauseam). Wikipedia to the rescue:

"He is the son of noted economist and writer Herbert Stein,[1] who worked at the White House under President Nixon."

I did think he was pretty funny in "Ferris Bueller" (though I can't tell whether that was intentional, or, as is rumored about Margaret Dumont in the Marx Brothers films, he was just playing it straight). R.i.P., John Hughes.

Posted by: smartalek on August 8, 2009 at 9:18 AM | PERMALINK

Wow, I am sort of a Nixon administration geek (call it horrified fascination, not admiration) and I didn't know Ben Stein was Herb Stein's son. Ben Stein also worked for Nixon, of course, as I noted above. To further confuse matters, Herb Klein was Nixon's communications director.

Posted by: shortstop on August 8, 2009 at 9:26 AM | PERMALINK

While this is good news, I never had to read his column. I am hoping that CBS Sunday Morning show will also hear of this and can Ben Stein promptly. His appearance there most Sundays always causes me a problem because it's hard to get to the remote fast enough to prevent hearing his horrid drone.

Actors with funny voices should stick to lines like "Beuhler, Beuhler" and not try to pretend political or financial commentary.

Posted by: Capt Kirk on August 8, 2009 at 9:28 AM | PERMALINK

Just another fine American patriot destroyed because he dared to practice his God-given right to make money from stupid losers.

Jesus was a salesman too, you know!

Posted by: Conservatroll on August 8, 2009 at 9:31 AM | PERMALINK

Stupidity doesn't go away in the media. It just migrates (under the provisions of the wingnut protection act). WaPo will hire Ben Stein within a couple of months, or they'll lose out to The Weakly Standard.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR on August 8, 2009 at 9:33 AM | PERMALINK

Have heard him many times on the Ray Lucia radio show. He was another member of the "Subprime problems won't amount to anything. Everything is fine" club.

Posted by: ComradeAnon on August 8, 2009 at 9:34 AM | PERMALINK

Anybody think I should keep my job????

Anybody?????

Anybody???

Posted by: dweb on August 8, 2009 at 9:55 AM | PERMALINK

Ferris Bueller had it right when he cut this guy's class.

Posted by: T-Rex on August 8, 2009 at 9:59 AM | PERMALINK

Ben Stein has been going in the wrong direction ever since he kept trying to take the red out with Viscine! -Kevo

Posted by: kevo on August 8, 2009 at 10:19 AM | PERMALINK

"Win ben stein's money" was pretty good on comedy central.
i met him once in a restaurant in chicago. i told him how much i liked and missed that show, "even tho i disagree with you on almost everything else."
he said, "thanks, i guess."

Posted by: mellowjohn on August 8, 2009 at 10:31 AM | PERMALINK

Ben Stein is like a 1970's version of Stephen Colbert who started believing his own material.

It was funny for a while, but then the caricature became a little too creepy. Then it was like waking up of as Mike Myers in "So I Married an Axe Murder" everytime he popped up in the news uninvited.

Posted by: tomj on August 8, 2009 at 11:14 AM | PERMALINK

For Ben the stein has long been more than half-empty. Ben the acorn fell pretty far from the tree of his dad Herb. On the other hand, he can be handcuffed to Shaq. Query: Can Shaq jump handcuffed to a white man who can't jump?

Posted by: Shag from Brookline on August 8, 2009 at 11:56 AM | PERMALINK

Somebody might have mentioned this already, but Stein is also a regular contributor on CBS's Sunday Morning show.

Last Sunday, in fact, he spent his precious network time telling us that Obama is trying to do too much, that Obama travels too much, and that somebody with experience (such as Biden) should tell the novice (Obama) to stay home and focus.

Pathetic.

Posted by: Chris on August 8, 2009 at 11:59 AM | PERMALINK

My "favorite" from Ben Stein was a column he wrote about a year ago in the NYT, lamenting that while he was an esteemed financial columnist [in his own mind, anyway], his son was a spendthrift loser, and he [Ben] had been supporting him for years.

Son had reacently gotten married, and he + spouse lived in some ritzy apartment and went out to dinner every night, even though they couldn't afford it.

Yeah, he should be paid to give "advice."

Posted by: Mauimom on August 8, 2009 at 3:57 PM | PERMALINK

While I agree with most of the comments above about Ben Stein, he did once write a very lovely piece on his father shortly before his father died. The essence of that piece is to communicate with your parents while you can; you never know when they will no longer be with you. As a result, I decided to call my Mom every day. She was on the west coast and I was on the east coast. I grew up being told that the prices of long distance phone calls were ripoffs of the highest orders. So, I had to put that programming deep in the recesses of my mind; but, was glad to have made those phone calls. My Mom died a little less than two years from that time. I was really happy I made those daily phone calls. Yet, when I read these things about Ben Stein now, I wonder was that one moving article just an aberration. Nevertheless, I recommend this to all young people out there whose parents are still living. Call them every day.

Posted by: Bonnie on August 8, 2009 at 6:30 PM | PERMALINK

Y'know, one thing that always kinda troubled me about Ben Stein was wondering whether he was in on the joke (if it was one -- I could be wrong) about the name of his Jeopardy-ripoff show: "Win Ben Stein's Money." Always looked / sounded to me just a teensy bit too close to "Take the Jew's Money" (the promo pix definitely made him look like the Member of the Tribe that he was/is).
Or am I (being of that tribe myself) just being paranoid as some of us are wont to be? (Remember that great scene in Annie Hall where Woody's character is grousing at the best-friend character, played by Tony Roberts, about the alleged anti-semitism he believed he'd sensed in a conversation:

"You know, I was having lunch with some guys from NBC, so I said, 'Did you eat yet or what?' And Tom Christie said, 'No, JEW?' Not 'Did you?'...JEW eat? JEW? You get it? JEW eat?"

But I still can't help but think that was part of the attraction of the "Win Ben Stein's $" gig.)

Posted by: anon on August 8, 2009 at 6:51 PM | PERMALINK

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Posted by: Leota on March 6, 2010 at 2:33 AM | PERMALINK
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