July 16, 2009

The Irritating Ben Stein

Ben Stein just irritates me. His attempts at humor over the years have left me flat, and his game show was a real dud. A few years ago, Ben did a science-bashing documentary called Expelled – No Intelligence allowed, which he demonized Charles Darwin and promoted improvable, faith-based creationist thought. Maybe that was it, or maybe the fact that he wrote speeches for Nixon has something to do with my animosity, but the little twerp just gets under my skin and always has.

Now we have something new, and a fresh reason to despise Ben Stein. The New York Times financial columnist is now endorsing FreeScore.com, a “service” that offers to provide your credit score for free. But of course, it isn’t free at all.

Reuter’s blogger Felix Salmon has a good bit at issue with old’ Ben:

How far has Ben Stein sunk? Far enough that I feel compelled to resuscitate the Ben Stein Watch, just to share this unfunny and positively harmful TV ad which is now being aired:

I went to freescore.com and found out my score for free”, says Ben, while an annoying squirrel holds up a sign with the word “FREE” in some horrible brush-script font.

A few points are worth noting here. First, the score itself is not very useful to consumers. What’s useful is the report — if there’s an error on the report, then the consumer can try to rectify it. Secondly, and much more importantly, if you want a free credit report, there’s only one place to go:

annualcreditreport.com. That’s the place where the big three credit-rating agencies will give you a genuinely free copy of your credit report once a year, as required by federal law.

You won’t be surprised to hear that freescore.com is not free: in order to get any information out of them at all, you have to authorize them to charge you a $29.95 monthly fee. They even extract a dollar out of you up front, just to make sure that money is there.

Stein, here, has become a predatory bait-and-switch merchant, dangling a “free” credit report in front of people so that he can sock them with a massive monthly fee for, essentially, doing nothing at all. Naturally, the people who take him up on this offer will be those who can least afford it.

The level to which Stein has now sunk is more than enough reason — as if the case for the prosecution weren’t damning enough already — for the NYT to cancel Stein’s contract forthwith. It’s simply unconscionable for a newspaper of record to employ as its “Everybody’s Business” columnist someone who is surely making a vast amount of money by luring the unsuspecting into overpaying for a financial product they should under no circumstances buy.

It’ll also be interesting to see whether the new Consumer Financial Protection Agency will have the authority to regulate this kind of advertising. If it doesn’t, that’s a significant hole in its mandate.

Ben Stein represents the worst of what caused the current financial downturn. He is part of an establishment that would promote expensive but useless products and services to Americans already down on their luck.

Ben Stein is a dick, and he irritates me.


Rogue Medic said...

That is one of the advantages of not watching TV - no Ben Stein.

I have seen his commentary on a financial show. He is incredibly inconsistent with his advice. Not in the way that a good trader is able to change strategy in an instant, but in the same show he will contradict himself, with no new information on which to base his reversal. When questioned on this, he will deny there is a contradiction.

He could star in a modern production of Through the Looking Glass. Of course, he would have to do this in drag, but that might only lend him credibility.

The Queen: Sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.