In the annals of CNBC cluelessness, this morning’s outburst by the channel’s Rick Santelli is up there with the worst.
This is an example of what’s wrong with a certain kind of financial journalism, the kind where people of like backgrounds spend all day staring at tickers and interviewing each other.
The segment couldn’t more clearly illustrate the disconnect between the financial-services sector, certain financial journalists, and, you know, “reality.”
This was CNBC’s worst performance in an entire week—since Michelle Caruso-Cabrera, Dennis Kneale, Roben Farzad & Co. made horses’ rear-ends of themselves trying to squeeze investment tips out of two of the leading thinkers on the global financial crisis, Nouriel Roubini and Nassim Nicholas Taleb.
What sent Santelli, CNBC’s hot-air, oops, “On-Air Editor,” over the edge? The homeowner bailout. Of course, he didn’t get himself into nearly this much of a lather over the trillions of dollars we’ve given to Wall Street welfare cases and the busted banks. Oh no. He’s mad that non-financial-service-professionals, otherwise known as homeowners, or, according to Santelli “losers,” are up now for help—to the tune of $275 billion, much of which would go to the banks anyway (emphasis mine):
Why don’t you put up a website to have people vote on the Internet as a referendum to see if we really want to subsidize the loser’s mortgages or would we like to at least buy cars and buy houses in foreclosure and give them to people that might have a chance to actually prosper down the road and reward people that can carry the water instead of drink the water?
Which reminds me of the French Revolution scene from Mel Brooks’s History of the World: Part I:
Count de Monet: “The People Are Revolting!”
Louis XVI: “You said it—they stink on ice!”
Look, we have no problem with robust commentary. And the hothead thing is part of Santelli’s schtick. The man has to make a living, we suppose. He’s gone off on bailouts before (he actually walked out on a segment a few months ago after a heated discussion).
He’s also been wrong. The segment he walked out on was in the midst of the mid-September meltdown when he was calling for a delay in a bailout of the crippled financial system, which nearly everyone now agrees kept us from a catastrophic meltdown and depression. But even then, he didn’t question the need for something to be done to bail the financiers out.
And he’s not been afraid to take on the powerful, like his own network’s carnival barker, Jim Cramer (see this entertaining YouTube mash-up), over Cramer forgetting his own bullishness at the top of the market.
But watching CNBC lately is like stumbling onto Easter Island just after the natives chopped down their last tree. It’s like a lost world over there. Somebody send up a chopper.
But then, this may be a sympton of a wider disease.
We at The Audit have written repeatedly about the blame-the-homeowners meme that’s been so popular in misdirecting people away from the real culprits in the crisis: the financial-services boiler rooms that created all those junk mortgages and bundled them into crap securities for sale to all-too-trusting rubes (aka “clients”) around the world.
I understand there’s a powerful undercurrent of outrage from some people who are paying their mortgages (or renting) who disdain those who aren’t or can’t.
But let’s understand what’s going on here. This homeowner bailout isn’t really even aimed at easing people’s suffering. It’s aimed at the banks, whose downward spiral will not stop until the housing market stabilizes.
The question is do we step in and try to engineer the softest landing we can—or do we let it feed on itself until we all go down?
But what I’m really interested in isn’t the pros or cons about the homeowner bailout. Reasonable people can and do disagree about that. What’s really fascinating is the peek it offers into how CNBC—or at least part of it—thinks.
At this point, the financial network is channeling the culture it covers. The barrier between reporter and subject has nearly dissolved.