Yesterday, modern-day patriot and CNBC correspondent Rick Santelli shed his reporter’s hat to reveal a hat he had long been wearing underneath, presumably for warmth: that of “veteran trader and financial executive.” He tried to start a riot on the floor of the Chicago Board of Trade, and got about three traders to join his battle against the clique of crony homeowners who have been swindling our nation’s honest bankers for far too long. President Obama’s proposed housing bill proved to be the straw that broke this camel’s back, and Santelli decided to rail against the creeping Cubafication of America.
This morning, NBC, like an embarrassed parent who drags his kid over to the neighbor’s to apologize for the broken window, trotted out Santelli to explain himself for his “impassioned talk.” Santelli, however, had clearly been galvanized by what guest anchor Brian Williams called the most e-mailed moment “in the Web universe.” Straining with rage, Santelli screamed down anyone else who tried to speak or state facts, especially if that someone was senior economics reporter Steve Liesman, who began by correcting Santelli on a key point: “First of all, Rick, they’re not lowering the principal amount of the loan. That’s just wrong.”
That set off a five-minute twister with Liesman, Williams, and Matt Lauer struggling to play the handler to the rampaging Santelli, who managed to hit every talking point in the objective reporter’s playbook: activist judges, evil government “legislating your choice away,” the God of the market mechanism, the appeal to private charity to save us (we haven’t, um, tried that somewhere else, have we?), playing up the tragedy that is poor Lauer’s decimated 401k, and the classic won’t-somebody-please-think-of-the-children line: “There’s a lot of zeroes in trillions,” he wheezed. “Aren’t you worried about your kids and your grandkids?” (Your kids, obviously, not those bum kids whose bum parents aren’t making payments on the exploding mortgages they bought from all those clean-cut bankers.)
Williams finally had to step in and turn off the bile faucet. “Rick Santelli from the Chicago Merc,” he intoned, “where I’ve learned they don’t sell decaf in the morning.”
Julia Ioffe is a freelance writer based in New York City.