Who Could Have Seen This Coming?

CNBC is now scrambling to undo the damage caused by Rick Santelli’s outburst and NBC’s aggressive promotion of the harangue.

And all it took was a conspiratorial piece posted on Playboy.com that way overreached to claim Santelli’s rant was a premeditated part of a conservative PR effort tied to the Koch family. The New York Times points out that that post has been removed with no explanation (if you want to read it, Megan McArdle has it posted here). I’ll venture a guess: Somebody’s lawyer called up Playboy, which isn’t exactly rolling in cash these days.

Yesterday, Santelli pushed back with a blog post on CNBC.com, saying he’s not affiliated with any of the “tea party” campaigns around the country and apparently trying to change the subject a bit:

Just for the record I have NOT been in favor of any of the bailouts not in the Bush administration nor the Obama administration. Not for the banks, the insurance companies, or the homeowners that purchased homes they can no longer afford.

Right, although here’s what he said in September about banker bailouts:

I do agree something needs to be done, I guess what I don’t agree on is that we need to do this in a haphazard way in six hours. Let’s spend a few days on it. This is a lot of money.

Not exactly a clarion call for tea parties and such.

Plus, Santelli still offers no explanation or apology for his comment that homeowners struggling with their mortgages are “losers”—hardly an appropriate comment for a journalist to make on national television.

But the lesson here is that CNBC has a PR mess on its hands, one of its own doing. Forget the extremely flawed Playboy.com post. This kind of blowup was easy to foresee. CNBC (and NBC and MSNBC) pushed a rant for short-term ratings at the expense of their long-term credibility, with chyrons that said “Rick’s Revolution” and such.

Now the worm (I use that metaphor intentionally) has turned and it’s seeing news stories like this one from the AP:

CNBC says reporter Rick Santelli is not connected to a Web site that used his name to promote a series of political protests against President Barack Obama.

And so the fifteen minutes are up. Here’s the Times:

The attention around Mr. Santelli’s views now appears to be a distraction at CNBC. (The New York Times has a content-sharing agreement with the network.) Mr. Santelli declined interview requests on Monday, and the network canceled his appearance on “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart” on Wednesday. “It was time to move on to the next big story,” a CNBC spokesman said.

Back to the futures, Rick.

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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 rc2538@columbia.edu. Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.