Now that the Justice Department has filed its lawsuit accusing McGraw-Hill Cos. and its Standard & Poor's unit of fraud, I have a plea for my fellow scribblers in the press: Please stop calling S&P a "ratings agency."

Call it a ratings company, or a rater, or a publisher, or an opinion merchant. Take your pick. Or come up with your own moniker clearly signaling that S&P is a commercial enterprise that makes its money by selling rating services to bond issuers.

The term "agency" makes S&P seem like it's an arm of the government, which it isn't. The U.S. government formally deems some rating companies, including S&P and Moody's Investors Service, as nationally recognized statistical rating organizations. But they are not government agencies, or any other kinds of agencies.

They are for-profit corporations. That is all. We should stop exalting them.

(Jonathan Weil is a Bloomberg View columnist. Follow him on Twitter.)

Read more breaking commentary from Bloomberg View at the Ticker.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the author on this story:
Jonathan Weil at