Ben Stein's TV ads for a scuzzy "free" credit product have finally caught up to him: The New York Times has fired Stein as a Sunday business columnist for violating ethics guidelines.
Stein was pilloried online for his endorsement of the bait-and-switch operation, which offers a free credit score but charges an outrageous $30 per month to see the credit report behind the score. As Reuters blogger Felix Salmon pointed out, consumers can get a free online report under federal law.
The Times' issue, though, is that Stein has violated its ethics policy, which states "it is an inherent conflict for a journalist to perform public relations work, paid or unpaid." Salmon blogged about that issue, too. It's surprising that it hasn't come up until now; Stein has been a regular contributor to the Times for four years, and is quite recognizable to TV audiences. After playing a high-school teacher in the 1986 movie Ferris Bueller's Day Off (R.I.P. John Hughes), Stein went on to host two shows on Comedy Central, including the Emmy-award-winning Win Ben Stein's Money, and a show on VH1. He also frequently appeared in cameo roles on sitcoms like Seinfeld.