How I lost my Sunday Business column.
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This commercial was red meat for the Ben Stein haters left over from the Expelled days. They bombarded the Times with letters. They confused (or some of them seemingly confused ) FreeScore with other companies that did not have FreeScore’s unblemished record with consumer protection agencies. (FreeScore has a perfect record.) They demanded of the high pooh-bahs at the Times that they fire me because of what they called a conflict of interest.
Of course, there was no conflict of interest. I had never written one word in the Times or anywhere else about getting credit scores on line. Not a word.
But somehow, these people bamboozled some of the high pooh-bahs at the Times into thinking there was a conflict of interest. In an e-mail sent to me by a person I had never met nor even heard of, I was fired. (I read the e-mail while having pizza at the Seattle airport on my way to Sandpoint.) I called the editor and explained the situation. He said the problem was “the appearance” of conflict of interest. I asked how that could be when I never wrote about the subject at all. He said the real problem was that FreeScore was a major financial company and I wrote about finance. But, as I told him, FreeScore was a small Internet aggregator, not a bank or insurer.
Never mind. I was history. “You should have consulted us,” was the basic line.
Of course, there was not one word of complaint when I did commercials for immense public companies. By a total coincidence, I was tossed overboard immediately after my column attacking Obama. (You can attack Obama from the left at the Times but not from the right.)
I still do not see the conflict of interest. Credit reports on the Internet never was in my subject area. However, I don’t sue newspapers. And the gig was getting to be so small that it really had a minor effect on my economic life. Still, I shall miss waking up on Sunday to see my column unless a neighbor here in Beverly Hills has stolen my paper. (No place, not one place, in Sandpoint sells the Times.)
The whole subject reminds me of a conversation Bob Dylan had long ago with a reporter who asked him what he thought about how much criticism he was getting for going from acoustic to electric guitar. “There are a lot of people who have knives and forks,” he said, “and they have nothing on their plates, so they have to cut something.”
I will miss writing my column for the Times but I miss many things. There were some great people there, really standup people. I got to love some of them. But as to the haters and the weak willed, I think my sister and Bob Dylan had it right.
You will still see my little thoughts, maybe in some big places. And I can put this Times gig on my résumé when I apply for Social Security. And, I really mean this, I will pray for those who use me despitefully, even if the neo-Darwinists think that’s a waste of time. It’s not.
One final thought. Well, maybe two final thoughts: first, it’s sad that the Internet has become a backyard gossip freeway for the whole world’s sick people to pour out their neuroses. I have seen a tiny fraction of all of the hate mail that’s come in the wake of the NY Times announcement (which they promised they would not make in any event). Too many sick people out there on the web for comfort.
Second, among those who are not really such hot items, I fully include myself. Without doubt, I have made as many mistakes as a person not in custody can make. I make no claims to anything even remotely like perfection or even desirability as a role model. It is just that in this case, I didn’t do anything wrong. In my life, I have done plenty wrong. I am not the master. I am the servant and a poor one at that.
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