With the economy suffering a steep downturn and a new hands-on approach by the federal government to correct it, financial news outlets have received increasing scrutiny. None more so than CNBC.
The cable channel, along with its left-of-center sister network MSNBC, operates under the umbrella of NBC Universal. One openly liberal NBC network apparently isn’t enough. The left – from the White House to think tanks to bloggers – has targeted CNBC because of its traditional pro-investment point-of-view. After a few weeks of criticism, the network seems to be taking the criticism to heart and making a big left turn.
CNBC went from comparing President Barack Obama to Lenin in January to saying he was “pro-shareholder” two months later. The network that inspired anti-tax “tea parties” and criticized the Obama administration as economically destructive became the same one that features Howard Dean as contributor and Arianna Huffington as a guest host.
A New Tone? Dean Hired, Huffington Guest Hosts, Outspoken Reigned In
As Isaac Newton said, “Every action has an equal and opposite reaction,” and that’s just what happened in the wake of the criticism of the network – CNBC announced a couple of bold moves to show it wasn’t the anti-Obama echo chamber that some alleged.
First, former Vermont Gov. and former chair of the Democratic National Committee Howard Dean, was officially named a CNBC contributor on the March 23 “Squawk Box” with a comment by co-host Joe Kernen.
“Joining us for the next two hours, former DNC chair and Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, who is as of today a CNBC contributor,” Kernen said.
But Dean, a medical doctor by training, isn’t really one who always has the investors’ best interests at heart. As Stephen Moore, a columnist for The Wall Street Journal and regular CNBC guest, pointed out during Dean’s 2004 presidential run, he isn’t known for pro-growth policies.
“When it comes to taxes, Mr. Dean thinks really big. In raw numbers, the Dean tax proposal would raise taxes on 109 million Americans by roughly $1.5 trillion over the next 10 years,”
The day after the Dean announcement, Arianna Huffington, co-founder and editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post, disclosed she would co-host CNBC’s “Squawk Box” on March 31. Just the day before the Huffington Post dedicated half its front page to criticizing “Squawk on the Street” co-host Mark Haines.
Huffington is not exactly your quintessential free marketer. In a column written on Dec. 28, 2008, the Huffington Post founder declared laissez-faire capitalism as dead as Soviet communism – ignoring the variables government itself played in what caused the current financial crisis.
“It's time to drive the final nail into the coffin of laissez-faire capitalism by treating it like the discredited ideology it inarguably is,” Huffington wrote. “If not, the Dr. Frankensteins of the right will surely try to revive the monster and send it marauding through our economy once again. We've only just begun to bury the financially dead, and the free market fundamentalists are already looking to deflect the blame.”
Huffington’s actual on-air appearance was largely uneventful with exception of a brief skirmish between her and Santelli over housing bailouts.
However, since Huffington announced she was appearing on the CNBC morning show, the liberal blog hasn’t posted any screaming headlines decrying what their contributors perceived to be an indiscretion.
The most tragic casualty of the left’s assault on CNBC would have to be “Mad Money” host Jim Cramer. The former hedge-fund manager now avoids criticizing Obama’s policies he disagrees with, and instead accentuates the ones he agrees with.
Cramer appeared on NBC’s March 24 “Today” along with CNBC “Squawk on the Street” co-host and “Street Signs” host Erin Burnett and announced Obama was officially pro-shareholder – a complete contradiction of his proclamation less than two months earlier that Obama was uttering the words of Lenin.
“We have to put the shareholders somewhere in the equation,” Cramer said. “When these CEOs make so much money, it hurts the shareholders. We have to be pro-shareholder. The president has become pro-shareholder.”
How It All Began – Santelli, Cramer and Haines Speak Out Against Liberal Policies
It all started with CNBC’s Rick Santelli’s call for a traders’ revolt from the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange on CNBC’s “Squawk Box” Feb. 19. Santelli, along with several traders, expressed his outrage about President Barack Obama’s plan to “spread the wealth” to people that didn’t deserve it. He said a stimulus should go to people who live responsibly rather than some sort of housing bailout to people that lived irresponsibly.
“I tell you what, I have an idea,” Santelli shouted. “The new administration is big on computers and technology – how about this, President and new administration? Why don’t you put up a Web site to have people vote on the Internet as a referendum to see if we really want to subsidize the losers’ mortgages, or would we like to at least buy cars and buy houses in foreclosure and give them to people that might have a change to actually prosper down the road and reward people that could carry the water instead of drink the water.”
Santelli’s floor speech was picked up by the Drudge Report, and then other media outlets took notice. Santelli inspired conservatives to stage tea parties throughout the country to protest the bailout culture in
Jim Cramer, the host of “Mad Money,” was another who showed no fear early on in attacking the proposed policies of Obama. After Obama criticized Wall Street’s moneymaking, including compensation, on Jan. 30, saying there would be a time “for them to make profits, and there will be time for them to get bonuses. Now’s not that time. And that’s a message that I intend to send directly to them.” Cramer responded by comparing the president to the first head of the
“Let me tell you something, we heard Lenin,” Cramer said on MSNBC’s Feb. 2 “Morning Joe.” “There was a little snippet last week that was, ‘Now is not the time for profits.’ Look - in Lenin’s book, ‘What Is to Be Done?’ is simple text of what I always thought was for the communists, it was remarkable to hear very similar language from ‘What Is to Be Done?’ which is we have no place for profits.”
A little over a month later, Cramer declared Obama “was causing the greatest destruction of wealth I have ever seen by a president” on NBC’s March 3 “Today.” That garnered a response from White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs and even more attention when a feud between him and Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart developed after Cramer’s colleague Santelli canceled an appearance on the network.
The third so-called indiscretion came from CNBC “Squawk on the Street” co-host Mark Haines. Haines, a long-time outspoken personality of the network, took on a couple of Democratic congressmen, Reps. Brad Sherman, Calif., and Charles Rangel, N.Y., for being advocates of a 90-percent retroactive tax on bonuses. For his trouble, Haines found himself the subject of a main headline on the Huffington Post on March 23, for being concerned about some of the populist rhetoric promoting compensation limits.
However, forgotten in the criticism of Haines was his treatment of talk show host and conservative icon Rush Limbaugh on Jan. 29 on CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street.” Just has he had challenged Sherman and Rangel on the tax issue, Haines challenged Limbaugh on the notion that the radio star was acting in a bipartisan manner, as he claimed in his Jan. 29 Wall Street Journal op-ed.
The Left Strikes Back: Inspired by Stewart, Attack Machine Shifts into High Gear
If there were ever any question who Jon Stewart speaks for, they were cleared up after the climax of the Jim Cramer/Jon Stewart feud – the “Mad Money” host’s appearance on Comedy Central’s March 12 “Daily Show.”
Cramer walked away from the appearance like a scolded dog after Stewart accused CNBC’s business coverage in the lead up to the collapse of the economy as “disingenuous at best and criminal at worst.”
“Jon Stewart made the case. Now we’re demanding action,” said a Web site called FixCNBC.com, established by the left-wing Campaign for
“When The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart grilled CNBC's Jim Cramer last week, he did what few others in the traditional media were willing to do: Expose CNBC's strategy of climbing in bed with the CEOs who created this financial crisis, instead of aggressively reporting on them,” an e-mail from Bill Scher, the online campaign manager for CAF said promoting the site. “But one decent interview is not enough to ferret the truth out of those now clamoring for taxpayer bailout money.”
And especially hard on the network had was the popular liberal blog, the Huffington Post. Various bloggers for the Huffington Post were sharply critical of Santelli, while championing his critics including, “Today” host Matt Lauer and White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs.
The same treatment was true with aforementioned “Squawk on the Street” co-host Mark Haines and “Mad Money” host Jim Cramer, although the Huffington Post did note when Cramer changed his tune about Obama.
All this led up to the concessions by CNBC – the hiring of Dean, the invitation to Huffington and Cramer’s distinct tone adjustment.
Although CNBC caters to a very small – albeit affluent – niche audience, the network has proven to be very profitable for NBC Universal, especially in a time when the economy is the front-and-center issue.
On Fox News Channel's March 27 "The O'Reilly Factor," host Bill O’Reilly and Bernard Goldberg, author of "A Slobbering Love Affair: The True (And Pathetic) Story of the Torrid Romance Between Barack Obama and the Mainstream Media" remarked on the network’s efforts to appease its liberal critics.
"The latest target is CNBC analysts Mark Haines,” O’Reilly said. He's there on the left. He follows Jim Cramer and Rick Santelli, who were both savaged by the far left. In fact, MoveOn has forced NBC President Jeff Zucker to hire Howard Dean – as a CNBC analyst, Dr. Dean of course knowing little about economics."
"Now many on Wall Street believe Jeff Immelt, the CEO of General Electric which owns NBC, has completely lost control of his company, including the actions of Mr. Zucker," O'Reilly added. "The evidence of that is that MSNBC is supporting and promoting the same far-left loons that are hammering the sister outfit CNBC. I mean, how rich is this?"
Goldberg, was not overly critical of CNBC's decision to push left, but did think that was the goal of the left-wing attack machine.
Goldberg suggested this might backfire if the financial network follows the path of MSNBC, which is traditionally third behind Fox News and CNN in the primetime cable news ratings.
"Let me tell you something about CNBC - they have a small audience, but they make a ton of money," Goldberg explained. "And the reason they make a ton of money is because the people who watch CNBC earn a lot of money. I don't think they're going to let a bunch of band of left wingers kill the goose that's laying the golden egg. I don't think so."