Even at a used-car dealership, this would be the sign of an unhealthy institutional culture; at the nation's newspaper of record, it's worse:
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."
So, not to put too fine a point on it, the Times had no ethical objection to the fact that Stein associated himself with a sleazy product, but only to the fact that he associated himself with a sleazy product that didn't have the Times brand on it.
Well. I know that straightens things out for me.
[Update: Oliver Willis remembers another Stein moment which raised no ethical alarms at the Times.]