The Times apparently told Mr. Stein that it was concerned about his deal with the company and his failure to disclose it to them in advance. Mr. Stein, however, says there's shady doing afoot, and that the FreeScore.com thing was really just an excuse. According to him, the Times really fired him because he's been too hard on Barack Obama.
In a column in The American Spectator -- oh, how the mighty have fallen -- Stein writes about how the commercial for FreeScore spurred criticism from people who hated it for his political views and skeptical stance on evolution:
This commercial was red meat for the Ben Stein haters left over from the Expelled days. They bombarded the Times with letters. They confused (or some of them seemingly confused ) FreeScore with other companies that did not have FreeScore's unblemished record with consumer protection agencies. (FreeScore has a perfect record.) They demanded of the high pooh-bahs at the Times that they fire me because of what they called a conflict of interest.
Of course, there was no conflict of interest. I had never written one word in the Times or anywhere else about getting credit scores online. Not a word.But somehow, these people bamboozled some of the high pooh-bahs at the Times into thinking there was a conflict of interest. In an e-mail sent to me by a person I had never met nor even heard of, I was fired.
As much as I've loved a lot of Ben Stein's work, I have to call BS on this. First, the company's reputation is not as squeaky clean as Mr Stein would have you think. You can read more from Gary Weiss' blog about that.
The second, and more important point, is that I'm sick of respected financial experts -- who make millions of dollars selling books, newsletters, columns, and seminars -- selling their imputed credibility to any firm that offers enough money. I recently took Magic Johnson on for his Rent-a-Center deal on DailyFinance's sister site, WalletPop. Stein says that he hasn't written about credit scores for the column and so there's no conflict but the point is that Stein's status as a respect financial guru -- a status brought about in part by his writings. The company's display ads on Yahoo! (YHOO) Finance proclaim that he is an "economist and financial expert" and that is inextricably linked with his status as a columnist. So at the very least, he should have informed the Times of the deal before he did it.
But the larger question is this: With all the money Stein has made selling financial advice, why does he need to make more selling his reputation to companies like FreeScore?