Ranting CNBC reporter Rick Santelli was supposed to appear on The Daily Show last night, but the network pulled him at the last minute. We wonder if the segment the show ran in lieu of his appearance made them feel better or worse about that decision. In it, Stewart savaged Rick Santelli and his ilk at CNBC, juxtaposing the blithe predictions of the network’s talking heads with somber screens telling what later happened. (“Bear Stearns does not have a problem,” we see our own Jim Cramer saying into the camera, followed by a screen announcing, for those who don’t yet know this information: “Bear Stearns failed three months later.”)
Now, we’re no fans of CNBC, and there are a lot of reasons to criticize them — of course, they’re wrong a lot, and there are a lot of big blowhards (and big blowouts) on there, and we do think their hysterical, minute-by-minute coverage has contributed to the general atmosphere of panic because it’s totally counterintuitive not to. And when it comes to politics, we’d side with Stewart over Santelli any day of the week. But something about The Daily Show’s takedown of the network last night struck us as not entirely fair.
And not just because one of the clips they use shows a CNBC reporter saying “Merrill Lynch says they don’t need capital,” not “Merrill Lynch doesn’t need capital,” which Merrill Lynch did in fact say. Or the audience laughing ironically in the background, which uncannily mirrored the whoops of the traders on the floor behind Santelli.
The past six months have been nothing if not wildly uncertain, and most everyone has made pronouncements they’ve come to regret, including — especially — some of the country’s hallowed financial figures. We doubt there’s a single news outlet that hasn’t made a misstatement regarding the economy in the past year. Back in August, for instance, Times wunderkind Andrew Ross Sorkin wrote a column predicting that the government would never let Lehman fail, which contained these bold statements:
Given Mr. Fuld’s access to Fed chief Ben S. Bernanke and Mr. Bernanke’s man on Wall Street, Timothy F. Geithner, Mr. Fuld is in a much better position than his rivals to keep his firm alive. A prediction: Watch the Fed’s discount window for loans to brokerage firms. It won’t close until Mr. Fuld is out of the woods.
As The Daily Show would put it: Lehman failed one month later. The Times’ Joe Nocera was on the show last night, too. Too bad they didn’t ask him about that.