Bartiromo and BizWeek with an Embarrassing Summers Interview

Maria Bartiromo’s BusinessWeek interviews aren’t exactly must-read business journalism. But this is ridiculous.

What would you ask if you got a sitdown with Obama’s economic svengali Larry Summers? I’m sure you can think of a dozen or so off the top of your head, any of which would be better than Bartiromo’s softballs.

Bartiromo, whose day job, of course, is on CNBC (which explains a lot), leads off with a perfectly dumb question:

What impact would the proposed regulatory reforms have on banks and investment banks?

You’ll be shocked to know that Summers somehow was able to muddle through his answer to that one.

But you know, sometimes you’ve got to serve up the softballs early to get your subject to warm up a bit. So question No. 2:

How is this different from what the Fed has been doing for 70 years?

Kind of a weird follow-up, but maybe No. 3 will brush him back a bit:

Since most of these institutions are global, do you need an overseer in step with other economies?

What’s he going to say? “No”? A better question might have been: Do you need an international overseer to coordinate global finance rules? That might actually get an interesting thought out.

No. 4:

What about ratings agencies? Will they be regulated?

Good topic. Not-good question. How about: Why did your plan not say anything about ratings agencies? How will you change their business model and their role in the financial system?

You just knew that No. 5 would probably be out of deep concern for Big Business’s point of view:

Right now a lot of businesspeople are unnerved about the proposed new taxation on the international profits of American companies. Where does that stand?

But it’s an important topic and one that will be a big fight, so okay.

No. 6:

Have you been hearing about this from a lot of business owners and CEOs of multinationals?

Are you serious?

No. 7 comes from the good ol’ “liberal media”:

The Congressional Budget Office predicts that the deficit will hit $1.43 trillion in fiscal 2010. We all know taxes alone won’t really put a dent in the deficit. What programs would you recommend cutting?

Well, actually, when we get through bailing out Bartiromo’s pals in the banking industry and the economy recovers from the hole blown in its side by said bankers, that deficit will shrink dramatically because tax receipts will increase. And much of that $1.43 trillion hole is for one-time expenditures for the stimulus package required to patch that hole in the economy. Two years later, the CBO projects it to be $633 billion.

No. 8 is the kicker. It’s your last chance, Maria:

The buzz is you’d like to be chairman of the Fed when Ben Bernanke’s term ends. Do you want that job?

Who cares?

Now these are edited down from the real interview, which aired on CNBC, but this is all BusinessWeek readers get. Still, the unedited transcript isn’t much better.

Bartiromo—again—doesn’t ask Summers about his being “bought and paid for” by Wall Street, as Portfolio’s Ryan Avent put it—pointing to a Felix Salmon rundown of Summers’ earnings from DE Shaw—after the last Bartiromo-Summers faceoff just two months ago.

As Avent said then:

But at least he’s smart enough to pick an interviewer who won’t ask him the really tough questions, like whether his actions as Treasury secretary helped to pump up the financial-services bubble whose implosion we’re all now suffering through, and whether he owes the American people an apology.

Right. And here are some other questions she doesn’t ask:

Hey, Larry, why did you fight so hard against your own administration for Wall Street to keep derivatives unregulated back in the 1990s? Do you want to apologize to Brooksley Born? Why should anyone listen to what you say after you’ve gotten so much so wrong? Why and how have you pushed aside Paul Volcker in the Obama administration? Why not put a cap on the size of Too Big to Fail institutions and break them up? Why do you still get F’s in “plays well with others.”

Poor showing.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.