Ben Stein Watch: August 24, 2008

Would you rather sit on an airplane than talk on a cellphone? Do you stare openly and voraciously at New Yorkers when you walk down Sixth Avenue? If your answers to both these questions are yes, then I highly recommend that you dive right in to Ben Stein’s column this week: I think he might be your soulmate.

On the other hand, if you think that PDAs are useful devices, it’s probably best to give this column a miss: there’s not much point in reading a luddite rant in which anybody with a cellphone has given up their "human flesh and spirit" to "become plastic and electronic machinery".

That said, I did learn something useful by reading this column. I’ve often wondered how it is that Ben Stein’s NYT pieces uniquely seem to avoid any kind of editing or fact-checking process. Now it’s confirmed that he must have some kind of no-editing clause in his contract. Check out this sentence:

They walk in rows of three, each on a cellphone, not even talking to the people next to her.

There’s nothing factually wrong here, it’s just a simple gramatical error. (No female subject has been introduced earlier on to whom the "her" might refer.) No copy editor would ever let such a thing pass, so we must conclude that somehow Stein has persuaded the NYT not only to run his rambling bunkum on a regular basis, but also that they’ve agreed not to alter a word of what he writes.

If this is really the case, one has to wonder what exactly is going on here. Running Stein’s claptrap at all is unforgivable; running it unedited is positively unethical. The self-styled newspaper of record even edits its blogs; to allow Stein such free rein would seem to violate any number of core Grey Lady principles. I think it’s high time the public editor started looking in to Stein’s arrangement.

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