In the Journal Sentinel this morning, we learn in a wire-service story that Ben Stein – the former Nixon economic advisor and sometimes-droll comedic actor in Ferris Bueller, Wonder Years, Win Ben Stein’s Money and, unintentionally, in his own Expelled – has been bounced from his biweekly perch on the New York Times business page. His crime? Stein was caught whoring it up for a company pushing economic snake-oil. The Times editors apparently decided that Stein’s snooty save-the-rich musings were too much coming from a free-credit-report scam pitchman, with or without the guitar.
It was an interesting story to appear in the Journal Sentinel. Even after finally admitting that it jettisoned 92 employees, including almost all of its fine-arts writers, the paper continues to employ its own highly-conflicted business columnist, John Torinus. The list of Torinus’ publicly-known conflicts that would prevent him from offering objective, fact-based opinions on anything runs long and deep. And it shows in his columns, which are not so much opinion as week-to-week campaigning on issues dear to him and his short-sighted business cohorts, such as high-deductible health insurance.
Unlike Stein, who at least has his deadpan movie/TV routine to facilitate his sell-out, Torinus is not for sale. His conflicts are that of his own self-interest and political connections, which is worse. If it wanted to, the Times could have kept Stein on and scrutinized his columns for any hint of recommendations that people send $30 a month to a murky company in exchange for nothing. It is impossible, though, to separate Torinus’ WMC talking-pointed pap from his personal, corporate and political agenda.
Torinus’ column might be more tolerable if the Journal Sentinel would at least let its readers know just how conflicted he actually is. Instead, the J-S informs us of just two of his non-paper interests (he is "chairman of Serigraph Inc. of West Bend and a founder of BizStarts Milwaukee"), making it look like he is just a hard-working businessman trying to make it in this harsh government-regulated world. Hardly. He continues to serve on the board of the WMC, which has been fairly active in recent years buying Supreme Court seats to make them safe for their narrow notion of business interests. He happily beats up on Wisconsin’s business climate for right-wing think-tank the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute (Question: If the Wisocnisn business climate is so bad, why are those who complain the most about it still here?). He is also a reliable contributor to Republican candidates for office.
None of this is mentioned in the newspaper as it continues to spend more of its shrinking newshole (not to mention payroll) on predictable right-wing advocacy. Of course, the more astute reader would realize that someone who advocates the elimination of the state corporate income tax (at a time of crisis for state revenue) and considers health-care reform a "burden" (when most small businesses are screaming for it), as he does in today’s column, is hardly an impartial observer of economic trends.
Why not just put a WMC logo and a "paid advertisement" notice on his column and be done with it?