Last week's dustup over the personal finance column James J. Cramer writes for SmartMoney magazine is one of those "scandals" only a journalist could love: incredibly easy to toss off allegations of "conflict of interest" yet incredibly difficult to define concretely what, exactly, the conflict is. At the heart of it, though, lies the ludicrous notion that only journalists are pure enough to offer financial advice untainted by "conflict." Woe unto us all.

Cramer is a hedge-fund manager who for years has written a no-holds-barred financial column for a succession of magazines, most recently the two-year-old SmartMoney. The purpose of the...

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