Suze Orman, one of those self-promoting purveyors of dubious financial advice, created some controversy when she took money to serve as pitchwoman in General Motors' pre-Christmas advertising blitz for its "Lock 'n Roll" financing plan.
Shilling for the carmaker's interest-rate offer raised questions about Orman's credibility. After all, an ethical financial adviser is supposed to represent the best interests of the people she advises, not those of the companies that buy her services. And an ethical financial journalist _ which Orman appears to be during her unavoidable programs on CNBC, PBS and other television networks _ provides objective information instead of letting corporate interests pay to tell her what to say.
But it turns out Orman hasn't violated the ethics of her profession, because she is no mere journalist or financial adviser.
"I have now become a celebrity," she said, by way of defending her GM ads. "Whether the reporters who have bashed me for years want to believe it, Suze Orman has become somebody that America has embraced."
Hey, I'd never bashed her until today, but I'm still not sure Orman is quite as embraceable as she thinks she is.
By Orman's logic, celebrities _ especially those who are unashamed to refer to themselves in the third person _ are not bound by the ethical considerations that constrain the behavior of little people.
Let's accept for argument's sake that Orman is a celebrity, at least in the sense that Jenna Jameson is a celebrity. But Jameson gained fame, or at least notoriety, by giving customers their money's worth. Now that Orman has let it be known that her advice is for sale, what fool (other than one at GM's ad agency) is going to trust her with his money?
That's the trouble with this country today: Everybody wants to be somebody else.
Suze Orman wasn't happy making a perfectly good living giving perfectly good financial advice; she needed to think of herself as a celebrity. Jenna Jameson wasn't happy being the world's most successful porn star; she wanted to be a writer.
Politicians (Fred Thompson) want to act. Actors (Arnold Schwarzenegger) want to be politicians. Rappers (Master P) want to be athletes. Athletes (Ron Artest) want to be rappers. Singers (Sting) want to act. Actors (Kevin Spacey) want to sing. And of course, everybody wants to direct.
Bank robbers want to be criminal defense attorneys. Steven Aitken, who admits he held up several area banks, intends to represent himself in court and use an insanity defense.
According to his court papers, Aitken says he suffers from "paranoid schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depressive disorder, anxiety disorder, personality disorder, narcissistic personality disorder, delusions (and) hallucinations."
He described his insanity defense as "iron-clad solid," which sounds like a saner calculation than Aitken intended it to be.
Some people want to be somebody else, even when they don't know who they are in the first place.
For example, Maria Menounos, a cue card reader on Entertainment Tonight, had this to say about her first movie role, in Fantastic Four: "It's nice to be able to exercise that side of me that's been waiting to come out. It's nice to pull back from the journalism and do this."
I know I'm a little defensive on the subject, but . . .
Asking Beyonce about her new nail polish isn't journalism. Counting down the Top 10 Awkward Red Carpet Moments at the Tony Awards isn't journalism.
And why in the world would somebody claim to be a journalist anyway? Polls consistently show that the public ranks journalists somewhere between loan sharks and lepers in the social order. Even Suze Orman doesn't want to be one.
But now Maria Menounos is taking a break from journalism to become an actor, which means Cate Blanchett has new competition.
Then there are those actors who want to be . . . well . . . God.
Richard Gere, who apparently has outgrown the Dalai Lama, recently took it upon himself to tape a public service announcement urging Palestinians to vote in their elections to choose a successor to Yasser Arafat. Here's how it began:
"Hi. I'm Richard Gere, and I'm speaking for the entire world."
You have no idea how empowering such talk can be until you try it yourself.
Come on _ say it along with me:
"Hi. I'm (insert your name here), and I'm speaking for the entire world."
Isn't it great! Because life is all about change, and we all have the power to become whatever we want to be.
Today I am a journalist. But tomorrow I could be an actress. Or the world's spokesmodel.
As Mike Tyson said, "I ain't the same person I was when I bit that guy's ear off."
Or as Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor said, "You only get a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity so many times."
Robert Friedman is editor of the Perspective section. His e-mail address is friedmansptimes.com.