CNBC=Cranky Nasty Business Correspondent
Rick Santelli’s extended tryout process to join the more vitriolic commentary-mongers at Fox News continues. Santelli already raised eyebrows and network blood pressure at CNBC when he aired his “tea party” comments on live TV, raising questions among media obsessives about whether he was in the tank for the Republican Party.
Today’s incident was tamer in the sense that he only accused one of his colleagues, senior economics reporter Steve Liesman, of asking stupid questions. That’s not as big an insult to a civilian as it is to a journalist, who hopes to get paid for asking smart questions. (And someone with Liesman’s extensive business journalism pedigree probably asks fewer stupid questions than most.)
The background: Six of the CNBC gang were on TV discussing whether Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and ex-Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson pressured Bank of America CEO Kenneth Lewis to keep quiet about losses at Merrill Lynch when Bank of America was also under pressure from the government to buy Merrill. New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said last month that Bernanke and Paulson threatened Lewis with losing his job if he didn’t push the acquisition through to, essentially, save the U.S. and world financial systems.
One CNBC reporter, Dennis Kneale, wondered aloud if it would be illegal for, say, a lawyer to recommend to Lewis that he violate “Reg FD” disclosure laws that would more or less deceive Bank of America’s shareholders into accepting the deal, knowing that if they were aware of Merrill’s troubled condition, they would oppose it with their very lives.
Then this happened (Beware: Everyone was speaking over everyone else, so we might have missed a word or two here and there):
Liesman: Ask the question in a more compelling way: ‘I want you to save the world and not disclose.’
Santelli: Come on, Steve! Are we going to come up with excuses to break the rules? To break the law? You sound like Richard Nixon! Who did you vote for, Steve?
Liesman: All I was posing was the ethical issue here. If it helps out to stabilize the system, is there a compelling reason to not disclose? I am not advocating that.
Santelli: You don’t break rules in a crisis condition!
Liesman: If you want to blow a gasket on that, Rick, well then, blow it on somebody else — not me!
Santelli: Well, then don’t open your mouth and say dumb things!
CNBC: We insult our own reporters so you don’t have to.
(Photo of fighting — and very showy — lorikeets: Reuters)