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." Salmon blogged about that issue, too. It's surprising that it hasn't come up until now; Stein has been a regular contributor to the Times for four years, and is quite recognizable to TV audiences. After playing a high-school teacher in the 1986 movie Ferris Bueller's Day Off (R.I.P. John Hughes), Stein went on to host two shows on Comedy Central, including the Emmy-award-winning Win Ben Stein's Money, and a show on VH1. He also frequently appeared in cameo roles on sitcoms like Seinfeld.

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A tipster informed us this morning that Stein had been given the boot, and Times spokesperson Catherine Mathis has confirmed, writing:

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Ben Stein's fine work for us as a columnist for Sunday Business had to end, we told him, after we learned that he had become a commercial spokesman for FreeScore, a financial services company. Ben didn't understand when he signed on with FreeScore that this might pose a potential conflict for him as a contributing columnist for the Times, because he hadn't written about credit scores or this company. But, we decided that being a commercial spokesman for FreeScore while writing his column wouldn't be appropriate.

We are sorry to lose him as a columnist, and appreciate his work for the Times over the years.

Stein retains his career as a sometime TV pundit (Fox News, CBS Sunday Morning, CNBC), his column on Yahoo! Finance and his "diary" at American Spectator, the once-fearsome conservative journal. He also has any residuals from his reviled anti-evolution movie.

We wonder if Stein will continue calling himself an "economist," as he did in the Times...


...even though his only economics degree is a B.A., from Columbia. We never understood how he had earned the "economist" label, but, at this point, whatever.