Hot air Rises Above on CNBC

An anchor pins a minor dip in stocks on the TV appearance of a minor politician

Rise Above, if you’re among the 99.95 percent of the country who don’t watch CNBC on a given day, is the network’s campaign against the government for not putting “politics” aside to come to a budget agreement that’s to the stock market’s liking.

It’s also an unlikely crusade, as I noted last week, from a news organization with some of the Fox-iest journalists TV personalities out there, leading lights like Joe Kernen, Rick Santelli, and Larry Kudlow.

Then there’s Michelle Caruso-Cabrera, who took all of two minutes on Tuesday to expose the hollowness of her own network’s shtick. Which is unsurprising since she’s written a book, blurbed by her old boss Jack Welch, about how “the Democratic Party is out of control when it comes to spending and intrusive government programs” and in which her own book jacket says her “Democrats are portrayed as union-loving, tree-hugging activists, more concerned with making government big rather than effective” in its pages.

So what happens when Caruso-Cabrera has one of those union-y arborist types on? Democratic Congressman Raul Grijalva went on air on Tuesday to talk about the “fiscal cliff,” (which is really an austerity slope, but you’d never know that from CNBC) and Caruso-Cabrera blamed his appearance for dragging down the entire $20 trillion stock market. Seriously:

Here’s her quote, via Talking Points Memo:

Representative? You know what, as we’re talking the market is selling off once again,” she told Grijalva. “Every time members of Congress come on, and I’ve got to tell you sir, I think you’re contributing to the fears that we’re going off the fiscal cliff because it doesn’t sound like there’s any compromise in what you’re saying. Do you care that markets are selling off dramatically when it looks like you guys can’t come to a deal?”

Of course, it’s nuts to think that Mr. Market was hanging on every word of an obscure member of Congress being lectured by some talking head on CNBC. But exposes a peculiar combination of ignorance, narcissism, and conventional wisdom that sums up Rise Above perfectly.

It’s also a revealing look at the overall CNBC mindset: the primacy of “listening to the markets” combined with the overinflated self-importance of a TV anchor topped off with jaw-dropping misunderstandings of correlation and causation, noise and signal. You almost have to willfully misunderstand the unknowableness of the markets to be able to blab for hours a day on CNBC. Every 50 point move in the Dow has a narrative that can be turned into live TV drama at the expense of the truth.

There’s another level of wrongness here too. Grijalva came on the air at 3:33 with the Dow at 12,908. When Caruso-Cabrera accused Grijalva of tanking the market four minutes later, the Dow was at 12,894. A 14 point move in four minutes is entirely unremarkable. But as Grijalva’s segment ended, Caruso-Cabrera doubled down, saying “eighty points,” as if the Dow had fallen that much in the time he was on air.

It was actually down 20 points in that time, and pinning that decline on the political views of a minor politician who happens to be on CNBC is just flat out of line.

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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. Tags: , , , ,