Viewers of Expelled, the creationist propaganda documentary in the first week of its cinematic release, should not be surprised by the journalistic methods of its producer and narrator, Ben Stein. Expelled's fervently religious maker-better known as a TV host, monotone actor and columnist-goes for shock value with the contention (by a Jew, no less!) that the genocide of the Holocaust had its origins in Darwinism's elevation of the survival of the fittest; but Stein's made outrageous charges before, labeling comedienne Joan Rivers a lesbian and accusing financier Michael Milken of running an "alternative government". Richard Dawkins, defender of Darwin in the movie, said that Stein took quotes out of context or pretended that the interview was for a fair-and-balanced exposition entitled, innocently, Crossroads. Well, duh. Stein has long made up the truth, much as God conjured up Ben Stein as part of some twisted plan for life on Earth. Read on for one of the disturbed journalist's greatest acts of journalistic creation, when he pretended he sat shiva with Rivers when he'd never even met her, and then defended hearsay as a practice sanctified by the Watergate investigators. (By the way, could somebody please explain how Stein still has his column in the New York Times' Sunday Business section?)
Stein achieved fame, but not fortune, in December of 1987, when he published a column in GQ under the pseudonym of "Bert Hacker." The author-who began his piece with the line "I have known Joan Rivers for more than twenty years"-wrote that he'd had dinner with the comedienne ten days before the suicide of her husband, Edgar Rosenberg. Later, he said, he went to her home to sit shiva for Rosenberg.
There were problems with this piece, all of the hallucinatory nature. Stein had never met Joan Rivers, much less been invited to her home to grieve with her. But now it appeared they would meet, in court-Rivers filed a $50 million libel suit against Stein and Condé Nast Publications.
With that, Rivers says, Stein's lawyer contacted her to deliver a threat: If she didn't withdraw the suit, the world would soon know she was a lesbian who gave her husband the pills he used to kill himself. Rivers says she challenged Stein's attorney to go public-and told him how much she was looking forward to announcing that it was Stein's wife who lured her out of the closet.
Stein had no comment until his appearance on the CBS This Morning show in February of 1988, when Kathleeen Sullivan suggested his reporting techniques leaned heavily on hearsay. Not at all, Stein said-his reporting methods were the norm. "The entire Watergate coverage was based on hearsay, and they gave the people who wrote that the Pulitzer Prize," he told his astonished interviewer. "If you look at any day's front page of The New York Times and The Washington Post, the huge majority of what is reported is hearsay."
(From Highly Confident, the Crime and Punishment of Michael Milken, by Jesse Kornbluth)