Friday, August 7, 2009

The riddle of Bill Kristol's tenure at the NYTimes is finally solved

[Updated below.]

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.]

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