WHAT IT TOOK TO GET BEN STEIN EXPELLED…. For reasons that never made any sense, Ben Stein — yes, that Ben Stein — has been an awful financial columnist for the New York Times for four years. This week, finally, the paper gave Stein his walking papers.

It was not, regrettably, Stein’s bizarre columns that forced his ouster. It was instead his role in FreeScore commercials.

The reason was his appearance in commercials for (and on the homepage of) freescore.com, a sleazy company which exists only to extract large sums of money from those who can least afford it.

NYT spokeswoman Catherine Mathis confirmed this, telling Gawker that “Ben Stein’s fine work for us as a columnist for Sunday Business had to end, we told him, after we learned that he had become a commercial spokesman for FreeScore, a financial services company.”

Reuters’ Felix Salmon can almost certainly take some credit for the development, after writing last month, “The level to which Stein has now sunk is more than enough reason — as if the case for the prosecution weren’t damning enough already — for the NYT to cancel Stein’s contract forthwith. It’s simply unconscionable for a newspaper of record to employ as its ‘Everybody’s Business’ columnist someone who is surely making a vast amount of money by luring the unsuspecting into overpaying for a financial product they should under no circumstances buy.”

I vaguely recall the point, some years back, when Stein was considered something of a mainstream figure at the intersection of politics and entertainment. He’d show up as a cable news talking-head, in between Hollywood cameos and hosting a game-show. He seemed quirky, conservative, and harmless.

But as he began to focus more on his political agenda, Stein became increasingly bizarre, not only with right-wing economic commentary, but also with scurrilous attacks against modern science. It led to a pseudo-documentary attacking biology, and an infamous interview on a religious right network in which Stein told a crazed televangelist that “science leads you to killing people” and that evolution led to the Nazi Holocaust.

I’d hoped the New York Times would drop Stein’s column because he’s a nut, not because he’s a spokesperson for some sketchy credit-score outfit, but so be it.

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Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.