I was interviewed by several journalists last week about Rick Santelli’s Rant — my exact quote was it had a “Faux” feel to it. (I haven’t seen it in print yet)
What was so odd about this was that Santelli is usually on the ball; we usually agree more often than we disagree. He’s been repsosible for some of the best moments on Squawk Box.
But his rant somehow felt wrong. After we’ve pissed through over $7 trillion dollars in Federal bailouts to banks, brokers, automakers, insurers, etc., this was a pittance, the least offensive of all the vast sums of wasted money spent on “losers” to use Santelli’s phrase. It seemed like a whole lot of noise over “just” $75 billion, or 1% of the rest of the total ne’er-do-well bailout monies.
It turns out that there may be more to the story then originally met the eye, according to (yes, really) Playboy magazine.
“How did a minor-league TV figure, whose contract with CNBC is due this summer, get so quickly launched into a nationwide rightwing blog sensation? Why were there so many sites and organizations online and live within minutes or hours after his rant, leading to a nationwide protest just a week after his rant?
What hasn’t been reported until now is evidence linking Santelli’s “tea party” rant with some very familiar names in the Republican rightwing machine, from PR operatives who specialize in imitation-grassroots PR campaigns (called “astroturfing”) to bigwig politicians and notorious billionaire funders. As veteran Russia reporters, both of us spent years watching the Kremlin use fake grassroots movements to influence and control the political landscape. To us, the uncanny speed and direction the movement took and the players involved in promoting it had a strangely forced quality to it. If it seemed scripted, that’s because it was.
What we discovered is that Santelli’s “rant” was not at all spontaneous as his alleged fans claim, but rather it was a carefully-planned trigger for the anti-Obama campaign. In PR terms, his February 19th call for a “Chicago Tea Party” was the launch event of a carefully organized and sophisticated PR campaign, one in which Santelli served as a frontman, using the CNBC airwaves for publicity, for the some of the craziest and sleaziest rightwing oligarch clans this country has ever produced. Namely, the Koch family, the multibilllionaire owners of the largest private corporation in America, and funders of scores of rightwing thinktanks and advocacy groups, from the Cato Institute and Reason Magazine to FreedomWorks. The scion of the Koch family, Fred Koch, was a co-founder of the notorious extremist-rightwing John Birch Society.”
What is Playboy’s evidence of this?
“Within hours of Santelli’s rant, a website called ChicagoTeaParty.com sprang to life. Essentially inactive until that day, it now featured a YouTube video of Santelli’s “tea party” rant and billed itself as the official home of the Chicago Tea Party. The domain was registered in August, 2008 by Zack Christenson, a dweeby Twitter Republican and producer for a popular Chicago rightwing radio host Milt Rosenberg—a familiar name to Obama campaign people. Last August, Rosenberg, who looks like Martin Short’s Irving Cohen character, caused an outcry when he interviewed Stanley Kurtz, the conservative writer who first “exposed” a personal link between Obama and former Weather Undergound leader Bill Ayers. As a result of Rosenberg’s radio interview, the Ayers story was given a major push through the Republican media echo chamber, culminating in Sarah Palin’s accusation that Obama was “palling around with terrorists.” That Rosenberg’s producer owns the “chicagoteaparty.com” site is already weird—but what’s even stranger is that he first bought the domain last August, right around the time of Rosenburg’s launch of the “Obama is a terrorist” campaign. It’s as if they held this “Chicago tea party” campaign in reserve, like a sleeper-site. Which is exactly what it was.
This looks like more than a coincidence. This is now a very serious charge.
I have no insight as to whether this is true or not — but it certainly deserves a serious response from both Santelli and CNBC. If its false, then they should say so, and demand an apology from Playboy.
But if any of it is true, well then, Santelli mauy have to fall on his sword, and CNBC may owe the public an apology.
I am VERY curious if there is any truth to this.
Previously: Santelli vs Cramer (January 2008) http://www.ritholtz.com/blog/2008/01/santelli-vs-cramer/
From the February 19 edition of CNBC’s Squawk Box:
REBECCA QUICK (co-anchor): We want to get to our task force right now. Rick Santelli and Jason Roney of Sharmac Capital are standing by at the CME Group in Chicago, and Rick, have you been listening to this conversation?
SANTELLI: Listening to it? I’ve been just glued to it because Mr. Ross has nailed it. You know, the government is promoting bad behavior. Because we certainly don’t want to put stimulus forth and give people a whopping $8 or $10 in their check and think that they ought to save it, and in terms of modifications — I’ll tell you what, I have an idea.
You know, the new administration’s big on computers and technology. How about this, president and new administration? Why don’t you put up a website 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 chance to actually prosper down the road, and reward people that could carry the water instead of drink the water?
JOE KERNEN (co-anchor): Hey, Rick, did –
TRADER: That’s a novel idea.
KERNEN: Hey, Rick, did you — oh, boy. They’re like putty — they’re like putty in your hands. Did you hear –
SANTELLI: No they’re not, Joe. They’re not like putty in our hands. 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? Raise their hand.
President Obama, are you listening?
TRADER: How about we all stop paying our mortgage? It’s a moral hazard.
KERNEN: This is like mob rule here. I’m getting scared. I’m glad I’m — I’m glad I’m –
CARL QUINTANILLA (co-anchor): Get some bricks and bats –
SANTELLI: Don’t get scared, Joe. They’re already scaring you. You know, Cuba used to have mansions and a relatively decent economy. They moved from the individual to collective. Now, they’re driving ‘54 Chevys, maybe the last great car to come out of Detroit.
KERNEN: They’re driving them on water, too, which is a little strange to watch –
SANTELLI: There you go.
KERNEN: Hey, Rick, how about the notion that — Wilbur pointed out you can go down to 2 percent on the mortgage –
SANTELLI: You could go down to minus-2 percent. They can’t afford the house.
KERNEN: — and still have 40 percent — and still have 40 percent not be able to do it. So why are they in the house? Why are we trying to keep them in the house?
SANTELLI: I know Mr. Summers is a great economist, but boy, I’d love the answer to that one.
KERNEN: Jason –
QUICK: [unintelligible] you get people fired up.
KERNEN: Jason, you wanna –
SANTELLI: We’re thinking of having a Chicago tea party in July. All you capitalists that want to show up to Lake Michigan, I’m gonna start organizing.
QUICK: What are you dumping in — what are you dumping in this time? Housing? Cars?
SANTELLI: We’re going to be dumping in some derivative securities. What do you think about that?
QUINTANILLA: Mayor Daley is marshalling the police right now.
QUINTANILLA: The National Guard.
KERNEN: Jason, are you nearby? Can you hear the cheering over –
RONEY: I am, but I don’t have the gallery directly behind me, so it’s going to be tough to follow that act for sure.
KERNEN: Yeah, exactly. You agree?
RONEY: I’ll have to run down to the pit. Well, clearly, we’re going to debate the moral issues of what government is and is not doing for some years to come. I mean — it’s apparent, even for traders it’s — the market gaps up and down a significant amount each day just on what one government may or may not do. We’re up 10 points or so on the S&P on the idea that core Europe may have some bank stability plans, so — the traders market, the uncertainty of the market will continue until we get through this process of weekly government plans.
QUINTANILLA: You know, Rick, one of our producers says if Roland Burris steps down, man, Senator Santelli, the junior senator from Illinois. It’s a possibility. I’m just saying –
SANTELLI: Do you think I want to take a shower every hour? The last place I’m ever gonna live or work is D.C.
KERNEN: Have you raised any money for Blago?
SANTELLI: No, but I think that somebody’s gonna have to start raising money for us.
QUICK: Hey, Rick? Can you do that one more time, just get the mob behind you again? I love –
QUINATILLA: Have the camera pull way out.
QUICK: Yeah, pull way out. Everybody listen to Rick Santelli.
KERNEN: You can’t — I don’t think — you can’t just do it at will, can you, Rick? I mean, you have to say something.
QUICK: Yeah, do it at will. Let’s see.
SANTELLI: Listen, all’s I know is, is that there’s only about 5 percent of the floor population here right now, and I talk loud enough they can all hear me. So if you want to ask ‘em anything, let me know. These guys are pretty straightforward, and my guess is, a pretty good statistical cross-section of America, the silent majority.
QUICK: Not-so-silent majority today. So Rick, are they opposed to the housing thing, to the stimulus package, to everything out there?
SANTELLI: You know, they’re pretty much of the notion that you can’t buy your way into prosperity, and if the multiplier that all of these Washington economists are selling us is over 1, then we never have to worry about the economy again. The government should spend a trillion dollars an hour because we’ll get 1.5 trillion back.
WILBUR ROSS (chairman, W.L. Ross & Co.): Rick, I congratulate you on your new incarnation as a revolutionary leader.
SANTELLI: Somebody needs one. I’ll tell you what, if you read our Founding Fathers, people like Benjamin Franklin and Jefferson, what we’re doing in this country now is making them roll over in their graves.