Rick Santelli acts more like a performer than a reporter to merit the Media Putz award
Originally published on MediaPutz.com on February 26, 2009
When you are a performer, it’s good to play to your audience. Rick Santelli might have thought he was “playing to his audience” during his now infamous rant late last week on the floor of the Chicago Board of Trade on CNBC.
“The government is promoting bad behavior!” Santelli complained. “This is America! How many of you people want to pay for your neighbor’s mortgage that has an extra bathroom and can’t pay their bills?”
His audience was actually the people watching his rant on the cable business channel. But Santelli was really playing to his audience, the traders on the floor.
Santelli was ranting about what he thought was in President Barack Obama’s proposal, whether or not what he was saying was actually in the proposal.
There are a few problems with this. As White House spokesperson Robert Gibbs pointed out, “I feel assured that Mr. Santelli doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”
Santelli isn’t a performer. He is hired by CNBC to offer responsible business information and analysis, not blather cluelessly about something with which he should understand, but failed to do so. It’s easy in a bar to offer up a rant not backed up by facts — no one holds you accountable in a bar. The traders on the floor might have liked what Santelli said, but his audience is not those traders, it’s us. Once you turn on the camera, the rules change.
Santelli says the issue for him isn’t political, but philosophical. But his motivation for his rant inadvertently became something completely different, ironically financial. From an interview with the Chicago Tribune’s Phil Rosenthal:
“I don’t think in those terms, but maybe I should now,” Santelli, 52, a full-timer on CNBC since 1999 whose current contract is set to run out around the end of the summer, said from his west suburban home. “I have three daughters. I have the whole college thing and whatnot.”
Santelli, who doesn’t have an agent, said he already has heard from several publishers, a prospect that interests him. (“I’m kind of a closet writer and a closet oil painter,” he said.) And he previously has enjoyed doing talk radio. That said, he noted, “I’m pretty happy with what I do.”
So we are to believe that his Howard Bealesque rant wasn’t motivated by some potential financial gain. After all, Santelli has worked for CNBC for 10 years and says he appears on the cable business channel about 12 to 16 times a day, and nobody outside of financial wonks knows who he is. His contract was set to run out this summer, and that college fund isn’t getting any bigger.
If you are going to be a media whore, you might as well get paid for it. That seems to be the current mantra in some circles. But some of us still think responsibility and the media go hand-in-hand.
Even John King of CNN (who couldn’t remember that the Republicans controlled the White House and Congress under George W. Bush) weighed in and thought Santelli went too far.
“I think you just hit the nail on the head there, Howie (Howard Kurtz) — way to get attention,” King said. “I think there’s probably a little bit too much. Asking what people think on the floor, that’s a legitimate question. Doing it as a stunt, over the line, in this reporter’s view.”
You can get rich being a performer, and you don’t have to worry about whether what you say has any impact. If Santelli wants to be a performer, then he should stop pretending to be a source of legitimate information and analysis.
In the rant, Santelli turns to the traders and proclaiming “This is America.” No, they aren’t. The smell of bad behavior, which Santelli seems so eager to not reward, permeates Wall Street. America is just stuck cleaning up the damage left by those smells.
But Santelli can’t see that; all he sees are $$, and this rant, not filled with facts, might be the ticket. And he gets another prize, too: the Media Putz of the week.