CNBC’s Bear Trap

CNBC paired noted bears Nouriel Roubini and Nassim Nicholas Taleb yesterday in what could have been a very good arrangement. But rather than fully explore their arguments on why the financial system is fundamentally screwed, the segment devolved into bear-bashing and nearsightedness.

Here’s Michelle Caruso-Cabrera, not able to contain her disdain for the bearish Roubini and Taleb.

“When I hear that Bill Gates and Michael Dell are lining up to listen to these guys in Davos, to me that screams of ‘market bottom’—like, peak of the hysteria.”

It’s interesting to see Caruso-Cabrera try to delegitimize these guys early on in the interview. The touts regularly featured on the network don’t seem to come in for such tough treatment very often.

Here’s another “what the heck?” moment: CNBC’s Dennis Kneale gets riled up when Taleb criticizes Wall Street bonuses as a big part of the economic and financial problems:

Compensation is the smallest part of the problem. Compensation doesn’t amount to one-millionth of the losses that we’ve taken on here. Compensation isn’t the problem.

Taleb slaps that down easily:

That’s not true…because the system was built…because bankers had an incentive to take hidden risk (that made the system) extremely fragile to black swans

Meanwhile, Roben Farzad of BusinessWeek, when not blathering about “cocktail parties,” keeps badgering Taleb about how his talk about the failures of the financial system isn’t “actionable” as an investment.

How do I sublimate that into action today? If I’m terrified; if I’m not getting anything on bond yields. Where do you put the money?

Taleb answers “I’m not here to give immediate investment advice, and Farzad interrupts in a further attempt to delegitimize him:

But you’re here to proffer doom and gloom…

To be fair, Taleb wasn’t answering the question, but anchor Bill Griffeth was able to step in and steer the conversation fairly and gets results.

Still, Josh Marshall has it about right on this display:

These two guys are talking about a deep structural crisis in the world economy. And these CNBC yahoos can’t stop asking for stock tips. Really surreal.

I’m watching it again now. This is a seminal piece of video. You have to see it. I’m not sure I’ve seen anything that captures — albeit unintentionally — the vast disconnect over what is happening today in the US economy.

UPDATE: Paul Krugman pulls out a hilarious Monty Python sketch after watching this gross CNBC segment.

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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.