Why is Reuters Econoblogger Felix Salmon planning "celebratory Champagne at the Oyster Bar" for lunch today? Ben Stein, conservative economist and Salmon's arch-nemesis, has been fired from his New York Times finance column. "I couldn't be happier," Salmon wrote. Stein was canned for violating Times ethics rules by appearing in FreeScore.com commercials. Salmon hasn't merely been a critic of Stein, he's been the critic, spending years hammering at not just Stein's economic analysis but his validity and merit as a commentator. Here, we survey the pundit war that led to Stein's discrediting and ultimately his downfall.
Salmon began "Ben Stein Watch" in May of 2007 with a Portfolio blog post titled, "What is Ben Stein Smoking?" (Ignore Ryan Avent's face at the top; Salmon held the blog at the time.) Shortly after, he began blogging every single one of Stein's columns, refuting the columnist's arguments and questioning his authority as a economist. Salmon encouraged other econobloggers to join the "Ben Stein Pile-On," which they did. In February of 2008, he began his long and unflinching call for Stein's firing:
One of the more subtly irritating things about Ben Stein's NYT column is the fact that he seems so cavalier and ungrateful about the fact that he has such an influential pulpit from which to broadcast his biweekly blather. The amount of time and effort he put into this week's column, for instance, was probably less than he expends on trimming his nose hair on a monthly basis. It's an incoherent mess which any self-respecting NYT editor would immediately reject out of hand if it came from anybody else.
Sixty Ben Stein Watches later, Salmon called it quits this April, citing his inability to get Stein fired. But it lasted only three months: A few weeks ago, Salmon, appalled to see Stein in commercials for FreeScore.com, called the company and thus Stein "a predatory bait-and-switch merchant." Salmon renewed his call "for the NYT to cancel Stein's contract forthwith." He maintained the Watch right up until this morning, when news of Stein's firing inspired Salmon to write, "You'll forgive me if I take some small measure of credit for this one."
Ben Stein must be wondering if his Yahoo column is next. Felix Salmon may be safely tucked away at Oyster Bar today, but there's no telling what next week will bring.