...don't even ignore 'em.
-- Samuel Goldwyn

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Ben Stein, Commentator, spokesperson.

Ben Stein, former Nixon speechwriter, movie star (the famously monotone econ teacher of Ferris Bueller's Day Off) is also the house conservative commentator on CBS Sunday Morning. Yesterday morning he delivered a passionate piece bemoaning Baby Boomers' lack of retirement savings.

O.K., you say, so what? After all, in addition to his stint as a TV quiz show host (Win Ben Stein's Money), he's also the son of famed economist Herbert Stein, and got his own BA in Economics--so he's got money genes and chops.

Well, I'll tell you so what: After Stein's commentary, Sunday Morning host Charles Osgood delivered this line, approximately:

"Ben Stein is a paid spokesperson for the National Association for Variable Annuities."

So here's CBS's paid commentator, commentating on a subject of vital interest to his other employer. And the best we get is a one-line disclosure after the fact. Which is more than I can say for the pages of links I found on this Google search for "Ben Stein variable annuities." Ben's been busy, fulfilling his duties as 2003 "honorary chairperson" of National Retirement Planning Week, doing Yahoo commentaries, USATODAY.com chats, Forbes interviews, and so on ad infinitum.

Fine, good, somebody needs to be beating the drum, right? And it's great if you can collect a paycheck for doing that--Ben's got his own retirement to worry about. And, clearly, you get plenty of media cooperation when you do this kind of PR work. Who am I to carp?

I'll tell you who. I'm a guy who thinks you should be able to believe you're watching an actual independent person delivering his own personal commentary, when that's the news organization's stated format, even in the most commercial country on the planet.

I'm a fan of CBS and Sunday Morning...or at least I was. It should have been a clue that the whole show yesterday had an Oscars Night theme. The show used to go its own way, with appropriate attention to what else is going on, delivered with its distinctive editorial take. No more. CBSSM had a certain standard TV talk show look yesterday.

And now that Ben Stein's been unmasked (I suppose I should be grateful CBS is at least disclosing) I'll now have to assume that every piece on the show is bought and paid for, like the rest of TV's "infotainment."

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