Ben Stein's Money: New York Times Fires Columnist Over Endorsement Deal
publication date: Aug 13, 2009
Ben Stein was recently fired by the New York Times (he wrote a bi-weekly column for them) after he appeared in a huge ad campaign for FreeScore. In the ads (see video below), Stein pitches that consumers can supposedly get all three of their credit scores for free from FreeScore. What the sleazy ads fail to disclose is the fact that consumers who respond to the ad and sign up for the supposedly free service from FreeScore are actually signing up for a costly credit monitoring service for a whopping $29.95 per month! Yes, that's per month which works out to more than $350 per year! You can see this for yourself in the fine print on one of FreeScore's web pages.
Now, the Times didn't fire Stein because of FreeScore's grossly overpriced and unnecessary service. (I've explained how folks can get a completely free credit report annually from each of the three major credit bureaus) The Times fired Stein because he violated the paper's conflicts of interest policy. In explaining the firing, a Time's spokesperson said:
"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."
Many people I speak and interact with are surprised to learn how lax many publications' and media outlet's conflict of interest policy are. The vast majority of web-based publishing outlets have no such policies. (I have never accepted speaking fees, endorsement deals or fees of any type from companies in the financial services industry or product or service providers recommended in my articles, books and his publications.)
I say, good for the New York Times to have such a conflicts of interest policy and good for them to actually enforce their policy.
By contrast, for many years, Suze Orman has been in bed with numerous financial service companies and is a walking conflict of interest. She hasn't been fired from CNBC and the other venues she works for because they look the other way and lack appropriate conflict of interest policies. This is just one of many problems I have with Orman.