The Center for Grassroots Oversight

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Profile: CNBC

CNBC was a participant or observer in the following events:

Fox News logo.Fox News logo. [Source: Fox News]Fox News begins broadcasting on US cable television. Fox News provides 24-hour news programming alongside the nation’s only other such cable news provider, CNN. Fox executive Roger Ailes, a former campaign adviser for Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush (see 1968, January 25, 1988, and September 21 - October 4, 1988), envisions Fox News as a conservative “antidote” to what he calls the “liberal bias” of the rest of American news broadcasting. Ailes uses many of the methodologies and characteristics of conservative talk radio, and brings several radio hosts on his channel, including Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly, to host television shows. (Jamieson and Cappella 2008, pp. 47; Sherman 5/22/2011) Referring to Ailes’s campaign experience, veteran Republican consultant Ed Rollins later says: “Because of his political work, he understood there was an audience. He knew there were a couple million conservatives who were a potential audience, and he built Fox to reach them.” (Sherman 5/22/2011)
Ailes Planned for Fox News as Far Back as 1970 - Ailes began envisioning a conservative news provider to counter what he considers the mainstream media’s “liberal bias” as early as 1970, when he became heavily involved with a Nixon administration plan to plant conservative propaganda in news outlets across the nation (see Summer 1970). In 1971, he headed a short-lived private conservative television news network, Television News Incorporated (TVN—see 1971-1975), which foundered in 1975 in part because of its reporters and staffers balking at reporting Ailes-crafted propaganda instead of “straight” news. Ailes told a New York Times reporter in 1991 that he was leaving politics, saying: “I’ve been in politics for 25 years. It’s always been a detour. Now my business has taken a turn back to my entertainment and corporate clients.” But Ailes misinformed the reporter. He continued to work behind the scenes on the 1992 Bush re-election campaign, providing the campaign with attack points against Democratic contender Bill Clinton (D-AR) and earning the nickname “Deep Throat” from Bush aides. Though Ailes did do work in entertainment, helping develop tabloid television programs such as The Maury Povich Show and heading the cable business news network CNBC for three years, Ailes has continued to stay heavily involved in Republican politics ever since. Ailes became involved in the creation of Fox News in early 1996 after he left NBC, which had canceled his show America’s Talking and launched a new cable news network, MSNBC, without asking for Ailes’s involvement. Fox News is owned by News Corporation (sometimes abbreviated NewsCorp), an international media conglomerate owned by conservative billionaire Rupert Murdoch. When NBC allowed Ailes to leave, Jack Welch, the chairman of NBC’s parent company General Electric, said, “We’ll rue the day we let Roger and Rupert team up.” Murdoch has already tried and failed to buy CNN, and has already begun work on crafting news programs with hard-right slants, such as a 60 Minutes-like show that, reporter Tim Dickinson will write, “would feature a weekly attack-and-destroy piece targeting a liberal politician or social program.” Dan Cooper, the managing editor of the pre-launch Fox News, later says, “The idea of a masquerade was already around prior to Roger arriving.” Eric Burns, who will work for ten years as a Fox News media critic before leaving the network, will say in 2011: “There’s your answer right there to whether Fox News is a conventional news network or whether it has an agenda. That’s its original sin.” To get Fox News onto millions of cable boxes at once, Murdoch paid hundreds of millions of dollars to cable providers to air his new network. Murdoch biographer Neil Chenoweth will later write: “Murdoch’s offer shocked the industry. He was prepared to shell out half a billion dollars just to buy a news voice.” Dickinson will write, “Even before it took to the air, Fox News was guaranteed access to a mass audience, bought and paid for.” Ailes praised Murdoch’s “nerve,” saying, “This is capitalism and one of the things that made this country great.” (Sherman 5/22/2011; Dickinson 5/25/2011)
Using Conservative Talk Radio as Template - In 2003, NBC’s Bob Wright will note that Fox News uses conservative talk radio as a template, saying: “[W]hat Fox did was say, ‘Gee, this is a way for us to distinguish ourselves. We’re going to grab this pent-up anger—shouting—that we’re seeing on talk radio and put it onto television.’” CBS News anchor Dan Rather will be more critical, saying that Fox is a reflection of Murdoch’s own conservative political views. “Mr. Murdoch has a business, a huge worldwide conglomerate business,” Rather says. “He finds it to his benefit to have media outlets, press outlets, that serve his business interests. There’s nothing wrong with this. It’s a free country. It’s not an indictable offense. But by any clear analysis the bias is towards his own personal, political, partisan agenda… primarily because it fits his commercial interests.” (Auletta 5/26/2003)
Putting Ideology Over Journalistic Ethics, Practices - Ailes, determined not to let journalists with ethical qualms disrupt Fox News as they had his previous attempt at creating a conservative news network (see 1971-1975), brought a hand-picked selection of reporters and staffers with demonstrable conservative ideologies from NBC, including business anchor Neil Cavuto and Steve Doocy, who hosts the morning talk show “Fox and Friends.” Both Cavuto and Doocy are Ailes loyalists who, Dickinson will say, owe their careers to Ailes. Ailes then tapped Brit Hume, a veteran ABC correspondent and outspoken conservative, to host the main evening news show, and former Bush speechwriter Tony Snow as a commentator and host. John Moody, a forcefully conservative ABC News veteran, heads the newsroom. Ailes then went on a purge of Fox News staffers. Joe Peyronnin, who headed the network before Ailes displaced him, later recalls: “There was a litmus test. He was going to figure out who was liberal or conservative when he came in, and try to get rid of the liberals.” Ailes confronted reporters with suspected “liberal bias” with “gotcha” questions such as “Why are you a liberal?” Staffers with mainstream media experience were forced to defend their employment at such venues as CBS News, which he calls the “Communist Broadcast System.” He fired scores of staffers for perceived liberal leanings and replaced them with fiery young ideologues whose inexperience helps Ailes shape the network to his vision. Before the network aired its first production, Ailes had a seminal meeting with Moody. “One of the problems we have to work on here together when we start this network is that most journalists are liberals,” he told Moody. “And we’ve got to fight that.” Reporters and staffers knew from the outset that Fox, despite its insistence on being “fair and balanced” (see 1995), was going to present news with a conservative slant, and if that did not suit them, they would not be at Fox long. A former Fox News anchor later says: “All outward appearances were that it was just like any other newsroom. But you knew that the way to get ahead was to show your color—and that your color was red.” The anchor refers to “red” as associated with “red state,” commonly used on news broadcasts to define states with Republican majorities. Ailes will always insist that while his network’s talk-show hosts, such as O’Reilly, Hannity, and others, are frankly conservative, Fox’s hard-news shows maintain what he calls a “bright, clear line” that separates conservative cant from reported fact. In practice, this is not the case. Before Fox aired its first broadcast, Ailes tasked Moody to keep the newsroom in line. Early each morning, Ailes has a meeting with Moody, often with Hume on speakerphone from the Washington office, where the day’s agenda is crafted. Moody then sends a memo to the staff telling them how to slant the day’s news coverage according to the agenda of those on “the Second Floor,” as Ailes and his vice presidents are known. A former Fox anchor will later say: “There’s a chain of command, and it’s followed. Roger talks to his people, and his people pass the message on down.” After the 2004 presidential election, Bush press secretary Scott McClellan will admit, “We at the White House were getting them talking points.”
Targeting a Niche Demographic - Fox New’s primary viewership defies most demographic wisdom. According to information taken in 2011, it averages 65 years of age (the common “target demographic” for age is the 18-24 bracket), and only 1.38% of its viewers are African-American. Perhaps the most telling statistics are for the Hannity show: 86% describe themselves as pro-business, 84% believe government “does too much,” 78% are “Christian conservatives,” 78% do not support gay rights, 75% are “tea party backers,” 73% support the National Rifle Association, 66% lack college degrees, and 65% are over age 50. A former NewsCorp colleague will say: “He’s got a niche audience and he’s programmed to it beautifully. He feeds them exactly what they want to hear.” Other polls from the same time period consistently show that Fox News viewers are the most misinformed of all news consumers, and one study shows that Fox News viewers become more misinformed the more they watch the network’s programming.
Ailes's Security Concerns Affect Operations, Broadcasting - Ailes is uncomfortable in his office, a second-floor corner suite in the Fox News building at 1211 Avenue of the Americas in Manhattan. His office is too close to the street for his tastes; he believes that gay activists intend to try to harm him, either by attacks from outside the building or through assaults carried out from inside. He also believes that he is a top target for al-Qaeda assassins. Ailes barricades himself behind an enormous mahogany desk, insists on having “bombproof” glass installed in the windows, surrounds himself with heavily-armed bodyguards, and carries a firearm (he has a concealed-carry permit). A monitor on his desk shows him what is transpiring outside his office door; once, when he sees a dark-skinned man wearing what he thought was Muslim garb on the monitor, he will order an immediate lockdown of the entire building, shouting, “This man could be bombing me!” The man will turn out to be a janitor. A source close to Ailes will say, “He has a personal paranoia about people who are Muslim—which is consistent with the ideology of his network.” A large security detail escorts him daily to and from his Garrison, New Jersey home to his Manhattan offices; in Garrison, his house is surrounded by empty homes Ailes has bought to enhance his personal security. According to sources close to Ailes, Fox News’s slant on gay rights and Islamist extremism is colored by Ailes’s fear and hatred of the groups.
'We Work for Fox' - Sean Wilentz, a Princeton historian and Reagan biographer, will say: “Fox News is totalized: It’s an entire network, devoted 24 hours a day to an entire politics, and it’s broadcast as ‘the news.’ That’s why Ailes is a genius. He’s combined opinion and journalism in a wholly new way—one that blurs the distinction between the two.” Dickinson will write: “Fox News stands as the culmination of everything Ailes tried to do for Nixon back in 1968. He has created a vast stage set, designed to resemble an actual news network, that is literally hard-wired into the homes of millions of America’s most conservative voters. GOP candidates then use that forum to communicate directly to their base, bypassing the professional journalists Ailes once denounced as ‘matadors’ who want to ‘tear down the social order’ with their ‘elitist, horse-dung, socialist thinking.’ Ironically, it is Ailes who has built the most formidable propaganda machine ever seen outside of the Communist bloc, pioneering a business model that effectively monetizes conservative politics through its relentless focus on the bottom line.” Former Bush speechwriter David Frum will observe: “Republicans originally thought that Fox worked for us. Now we’re discovering that we work for Fox.” (Sherman 5/22/2011; Dickinson 5/25/2011)

The “military analysts” named by the New York Times as participants in the Pentagon’s propaganda operation to manipulate public opinion on the Iraq war (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond) appear over 4,500 times on network and television news broadcasts between January 1, 2002 and May 13, 2008. The news outlets included in the May 13, 2008 count, performed by the media watchdog group Media Matters, includes ABC, ABC News Now, CBS, CBS Radio Network, NBC, CNN, CNN Headline News, Fox News, MSNBC, CNBC, and NPR. Media Matters uses the Lexis/Nexis database to compile their report. Media Matters releases a spreadsheet documenting each analyst’s appearance on each particular broadcast outlet. (Media Matters 5/13/2008) Salon columnist Glenn Greenwald notes, “If anything, the Media Matters study actually under-counts the appearances, since it only counted ‘the analysts named in the Times article,’ and several of the analysts who were most active in the Pentagon’s propaganda program weren’t mentioned by name in that article.” (Greenwald 5/15/2008)

On CNBC’s Capital Report, NBC reporter Andrea Mitchell says it should be “easily ascertained” who the sources were for the Plame Wilson identity leak. Asked, “Do we have any idea how widely known it was in Washington that Joe Wilson’s wife worked for the CIA?” Mitchell responds, “It was widely known among those of us who cover the intelligence community and who were actively engaged in trying to track down who among the foreign service community was the envoy to Niger” (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). Many interpret Mitchell’s comment to mean that she and many other reporters knew about Plame Wilson’s CIA status. Mitchell will later recant her statement, saying she misunderstood the question and “screwed it up.” (US District Court for the District of Columbia 1/26/2006 pdf file; US District Court for the District of Columbia 5/26/2006 pdf file) Mitchell will later explain her misstatement on a broadcast of the Don Imus radio and television show, saying: “This is one of those things. We’ve got a whole new world of journalism out there where there are people writing blogs who are going to grab this one thing and not everything else I have written and said about this and go to town with it. It supports their political point of view, and… bingo.” (Jane Hamsher 3/13/2007)

CNBC commentator Rick Santelli ‘rants’ about the Obama economic policies.CNBC commentator Rick Santelli ‘rants’ about the Obama economic policies. [Source: CNBC / Media Matters]In what is purportedly an impromptu on-air “rant,” CNBC financial commentator Rick Santelli exhorts viewers to join in what he calls a “Chicago tea party” to oppose the Obama administration’s plans to bail out several large financial institutions. Santelli’s rant comes during CNBC’s Squawk Box broadcast. (CNBC 2/19/2009; CNBC 2/19/2009) Santelli’s “impromptu rant” is actually preceded by a number of “tea party” protests and activities, and some of the protests’ organizers claim to have given Santelli the idea for his on-air “tea party” statement (see After November 7, 2008, February 1, 2009, and February 16-17, 2009).
'It's Time for Another Tea Party' - Broadcasting from the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, Santelli tells viewers in part: “The government is promoting bad behavior. We certainly don’t want to put stimulus pork and give people a whopping $8 or $10 in their check and think that they ought to save it.… I have an idea. The new administration is big on computers and technology. How about this, Mr. 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 they like to at least buy buy cars, buy a house that is in foreclosure… give it to people who might have a chance to actually prosper down the road and reward people that can carry the water instead of drink the water? This is America! How many people want to pay for your neighbor’s mortgages that has an extra bathroom and can’t pay their bills? Raise their hand! President Obama, are you listening?… It’s time for another tea party. What we are doing in this country will make Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin roll over in their graves.” Santelli also compares the US to Cuba: “Cuba used to have mansions and a relatively decent economy,” he says. “They moved from the individual to the collective. Now they’re driving ‘54 Chevys.” (RightPundits 2/19/2009) Santelli’s “tea party” metaphor is in reference to the Boston Tea Party, a Revolutionary War protest against taxation by America’s British rulers. (Connor 2/20/2009)
Financial Traders Are the 'Real Americans' - Santelli tells viewers that the “real” Americans are not the working-class citizens trying to pay mortgages larger than they can handle, but the stock traders and other members of the Chicago Mercantile, New York Stock Exchange, and other members of the financial industry. (Weisenthal 2/19/2009) Santelli says, “We’re thinking of having a Chicago Tea Party in July (see After November 7, 2008), all you capitalists that want to show up to Lake Michigan, I’m gonna start organizing.” (Burghart and Zeskind 8/24/2010)
Cheers and Applause - Behind Santelli, traders erupt in cheers and applause at his comments. (Graef 2/20/2009)
Active Promotion of the Video - Within hours, CNBC begins promoting the video of Santelli’s comments, calling it “the rant of the year” and posting it on YouTube and its own website. (CNBC 2/20/2009)
Protests, Organizations Begin Forming - Within minutes of Santelli’s broadcast, “tea party” organizations and groups begin forming (see February 19, 2009 and After).
More Studied Response - Three days later, Santelli will explain the thinking behind his comments, saying: “America is a great country and we will overcome our current economic setbacks. The issues that currently face us and the solutions to correct them need to be debated, vetted, and openly studied. This should not be an issue about the political left or right. This is an issue of discourse on a topic that affects the foundation and principles that make our country great… free speech, contract law, freedom of the press, and most of all the legacy we leave our children and grandchildren.” (CNBC 2/22/2009)
Human Rights Organization: 'Racial' Component to Santelli's Rhetoric - In 2010, a report by the Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights (IREHR) will say that “[a]n unstated racial element colored Santelli’s outrage over the Obama administration’s home mortgage rescue plan.” The report will explain that many of the “losers” responsible for the “bad loans” Santelli is criticizing were made by banks that “disproportionately targeted communities of color for subprime loans.” Santelli’s “losers” are largely African-American or Hispanic borrowers who had “been oversold by lenders cashing in on the subprime market. Their situations were worsened by derivatives traders, like Santelli, who packaged and re-packaged those loans until they were unrecognizable and untenable.” (Burghart and Zeskind 8/24/2010)

A day after CNBC’s Rick Santelli engaged in a “rant” against President Obama’s economic policies, and called for a modern-day “tea party” to protest those policies (see February 19, 2009), White House press secretary Robert Gibbs invites Santelli to the White House for coffee and to discuss Obama’s plan to help homeowners. “I’d be happy to buy him a cup of coffee,” Gibbs says. “Decaf.” Gibbs has said that Santelli needs to learn more about the economic bailout before engaging in such sharp criticism. “I’ve watched Mr. Santelli on cable the past 24 hours or so,” he says. “I’m not entirely sure where Mr. Santelli lives or in what house he lives but the American people are struggling every day to meet their mortgages, stay in their jobs, pay their bills, send their kids to school.… Mr. Santelli has argued, I think quite wrongly, that this plan won’t help everyone. This plan helps people who have been playing by the rules.… I would encourage him to read the president’s plan.… It’s tremendously important for people who rant on cable TV to be responsible and understand what it is they’re talking about. I feel assured that Mr. Santelli doesn’t know what he’s talking about.” Santelli, who has admitted to not reading the White House’s bailout proposals, tells CNBC viewers he “would love to accept” the invitation, but—holding a tea bag to the cameras—says he prefers “tea” to coffee. (CNBC 2/20/2009; Gerstein 2/20/2009; Fang 2/23/2009; Stelter 2/23/2009; Associated Press 3/2/2009) Shortly thereafter, Santelli will say that he felt “threatened” by Gibbs’s reference to not knowing where he lives (see February 23, 2009).

Two of the signs being carried by ‘tea party’ protesters at the Santa Monica event.Two of the signs being carried by ‘tea party’ protesters at the Santa Monica event. [Source: GayPatriot (.net)]Yasha Levine, co-author of a Playboy article alleging that the Rick Santelli “tea party” “rant” on CNBC was part of a pre-planned rollout of corporate-funded tea party organizations (see February 27, 2009), attends a tea party event at the Santa Monica pier. The event, planned as a “spontaneous” citizen protest of the Obama administration’s economic policies, was planned and supervised by Tony Katz, who organized it through a Facebook page. The event is planned to last 45 minutes, and consists of a quick “meet and greet,” three keynote speakers (an actor, a writer, and a comedian), and as a finale, a quick teabagging ceremony. Levine says the event’s timing is not conducive to attracting large numbers of protesters, being as it takes place at the beginning of a workday. However, she notes, it is quite conducive for media coverage: journalists would “get the material and be back in the office before noon, enough time to write and edit their segments to appear that same day.” Levine arrives late, but in time to witness Katz finishing his closing speech and event organizers passing out tea bags. She estimates the crowd size at about 50, “not what you would expect from a grassroots movement that supposedly tsunamied so fast that a whole network materialized in just a few days” (see February 19-21, 2009). Some protesters hold anti-Obama signs, others wave signs with anti-tax slogans. At least a third of the crowd, Levine writes, is made up of reporters and other “media types.” At 9:35, Katz exhorts the crowd to throw their tea bags into a pot of water (as throwing them in the ocean constitutes littering) and scream out their anti-tax demands. Levine observes: “It was a total sham, a front in order to get TV facetime. It worked, too. Fox News sent a camera crew. So did NBC. Koch [the Koch family, whom Levine has accused of clandestinely funding many tea party organizations] was teabagging the media, and the media loved it.” (Yasha Levine 2/27/2009)

Mark Ames.Mark Ames. [Source: Guardian]CNBC’s Rick Santelli has become something of a superstar among conservative media pundits and others exasperated by the Obama economic bailouts, after engaging in a purportedly impromptu “rant” during an on-air broadcast (see February 19, 2009). Investigative reporters Mark Ames and Yasha Levine discover that Santelli’s rant may have been a pre-planned incident timed to coincide with the launch of a so-called “tea party movement” predicated on opposing the Obama administration and supporting conservative and Republican ideas and agendas. In the hours and days following Santelli’s appearance on CNBC, the authors write, “[a] nationwide ‘tea party’ grassroots Internet protest movement has sprung up seemingly spontaneously, all inspired by Santelli, with rallies planned today in cities from coast to coast to protest against Obama’s economic policies.”
Connections to the Koch Family - Ames and Levine write that Santelli’s CNBC “rant” 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 right-wing oligarch clans this country has ever produced.” Ames and Levine are referring to the Koch family, headed by Fred Koch (see 1940 and After), the billionaire co-founder of the extremist John Birch Society (see March 10, 1961 and December 2011) and whose sons are heavy donors to right-wing think tanks and advocacy groups such as the Cato Institute (see 1977-Present) and FreedomWorks (see 1984 and After).
ChicagoTeaParty.com - On the air, Santelli said, “We’re thinking of having a Chicago tea party in July, all you capitalists who want to come down to Lake Michigan, I’m gonna start organizing.” Within minutes, Matt Drudge of the Drudge Report had posted headlines about the “tea party” rant on his Web site. Within hours, a new Web site, chicagoteaparty.com, had appeared, featuring a YouTube video of Santelli’s rant and calling itself the official home of the Chicago Tea Party. The domain name had been registered months before by right-wing media figure Zack Christenson (see August 2008), but had remained dormant until after Santelli spoke on CNBC. Ames and Levine note that Christenson bought the domain around the same time that Milt Rosenburg, the Chicago talk show host whom Christenson produces, began attempting to link then-presidential candidate Barack Obama with “left-wing terrorist” William Ayers (see August 2008). Ames and Levine write: “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.”
The Sam Adams Alliance - The ChicagoTeaParty.com Web site, Ames and Levine report, is part of a larger network of conservative Web sites set up over the last few months under the auspices of the “Sam Adams Alliance” (SAA), an organization linked to the Koch family and to FreedomWorks, a public relations group funded by Koch and headed by former Republican House Majority Leader Dick Armey (see April 14, 2009). The SAA is a Chicago-area libertarian/conservative group named for Samuel Adams, who led the Boston Tea Party protest in 1773. (Ames and Levine 2/27/2009) In 2008, the New York Times described the SAA as having “started an ambitious project this year to encourage right-leaning activists and bloggers to get online and focus on local and state issues.” (Phillips 7/19/2008)
OfficialChicagoTeaParty.com - Another Web site, officialchicagoteaparty.com, went live on February 19 as well. That site is registered to Eric Odom, a Republican specializing in faux-grassroots PR campaigns sometimes called “astroturf” (see April 15, 2009). Odom has worked with Koch Industries, a large oil and natural gas corporation and the source of the Koch family fortune, in supporting offshore oil-drilling legislation. Odom was, until January 2009, the “new media coordinator” for the Sam Adams Alliance. Upon his departure, the SAA removed Odom’s name from its Web site. The SAA also removed any mention of Koch’s funding, or any other connections between Koch and the organization, from its site. Two of the SAA’s board members, Eric O’Keefe and Joseph Lehman, are tied both to Koch and to FreedomWorks.
FreedomWorks - In the hours after Santelli’s rant, FreedomWorks posted a large photo of Santelli on its Web site’s front page with the caption: “Are you with Rick? We are. Click here to learn more.”
Other Sites - In the hours after Santelli’s rant, other Web sites such as Right.org, promoting a tea party support group that purports to be a citizen-launched organization “created by a few friends who were outraged by the bailouts” and headed by “Evan and Duncan,” and numerous pro-tea party Facebook pages, were launched. Right.org is sponsoring a $27,000 prize for an “anti-bailout video competition.” Ames and Levine ask: “Who are Evan and Duncan? Do they even really exist?”
No Connections on the Surface - Ames and Levine note that the numerous Web sites and Facebook pages have remarkable similarities in language and appearance, “as if they were part of a multi-pronged advertising campaign planned out by a professional PR company. Yet, on the surface, they pretended to have no connection. The various sites set up their own Twitter feeds and Facebook pages dedicated to the Chicago Tea Party movement. And all of them linked to one another, using it as evidence that a decentralized, viral movement was already afoot. It wasn’t about partisanship; it was about real emotions coming straight from real people.”
Santelli and the Tea Party Organizers - Ames and Levine ask why Santelli, and CNBC, would “risk their credibility, such as it is, as journalists dispensing financial information in order to act as PR fronts for a partisan campaign.” Santelli’s contract with CNBC is about to expire, they note. Until the “tea party” rant, Santelli was an obscure financial commentator with few prospects. Now, though, he is a “hero” of the right. As another Chicago tea party organization, the Daily Bail, wrote on its site: “Rick, this message is to you. You are a true American hero and there are no words to describe what you did today except your own. Headquartered nearby, we will be helping the organization in whatever way possible.” Ames and Levine speculate that Santelli may have been brought into the fold by one of his CNBC colleagues, Lawrence Kudlow, who himself has strong connections to FreedomWorks. (Ames and Levine 2/27/2009) Steve Megremis of the Daily Bail will call Ames and Levine’s allegations about his Web site’s involvement “categorically untrue,” writing: “It’s unfortunate because I believe that the article did some great investigative work and then at the end they threw me under the bus for no apparent reason. Apparently, the authors just assumed we were part of this conspiracy because of my own personal excitement about the prospect of a mid-summer tea party.” Megremis will post a response on his site, but the response will soon disappear. (Barry Ritholtz 2/28/2009)
Playboy Removes Article - By March 2, Playboy will remove the Ames and Levine article from its Web site. No explanation is offered. The article will instead become available on a Web site called “The Exiled,” which bills itself as an “alternative” press outlet. (Jeffrey Feldman 3/2/2009)

The Weekly Standard, in a column by Jonathan Last, promotes and celebrates the nascent “tea party” movement that started as a reaction to an on-air “rant” by CNBC commentator Rick Santelli (see February 19, 2009 and February 27, 2009) against the government bailouts of large corporations. (The article is dated March 9, but is posted on the Standard’s Web site on March 2.) Last notes that previous organizations opposing the bailouts had been proven to be “astroturf” groups pretending to be grassroots, citizen-driven organizations, but in fact owned and operated by such conservative public relations firms as FreedomWorks (see April 14, 2009). Now, however, Last says the “tea party” organizations springing up around the country are actual grassroots organizations with no affiliations to conservative PR firms or political organizations. Last notes that conservative radio producer Zack Christenson had indeed bought chicagoteaparty.com in August 2008 (see August 2008), as noted by progressive reporters who have alleged that the “tea party” movement—and Santelli’s “spontaneous” rant (see March 2, 2009)—were part of a pre-planned launch effort (see February 27, 2009), but claims that Christenson merely bought the domain “thinking it might be a good name for a group,” and “retooled the site” hours after seeing Santelli’s rant. Last claims that dozens of other sites, including reteaparty.com (see March 2, 2009), were bought and posted “spontaneously” within hours of Santelli’s broadcast, as were dozens of Facebook “tea party” and Santelli fan sites. Last claims that reteaparty.com owner Anthony Astolfi, with the help of “his roommate and a cousin,” bought the domain, designed and posted the site, and promoted it on dozens of “high-ranking results pages” within 12 hours of Santelli’s rant, and awoke the next day to find they had had 40,000 visitors to their site and become “a minor sensation.” Last concludes by writing: “[I]t’s easy to see the groups that might make up a real grassroots movement: the Ron Paul libertarians, renters, housing bubble obsessives, disillusioned Democrats, stat-head financial types, and, of course, rich, heartless Republicans. And then there is Santelli, who, if so inclined, might put himself forward the way Howard Jarvis did with his property tax revolt in California in 1978. The question is whether or not these people can find each other and figure out a way to push back.” (Last 3/9/2009) Investigative reporters Mark Ames and Yasha Levine note that Astolfi’s Web site is indeed funded by a conservative political action committee (PAC), a fact that Last either does not know or chooses not to report. (Mark Ames and Yasha Levine 3/2/2009)

CNBC financial commentator Rick Santelli, who caused a media sensation with his anti-bailout “rant” in mid-February (see February 19, 2009), and whose commentary has been alleged to have been part of a larger “tea party” rollout by several well-funded conservative organizations (see February 27, 2009), pens a disclaimer for the CNBC Web site. He writes that he has “NO affiliation or association with any of the Web sites or related tea party movements that have popped up as a result of my comments on February 19th, or to the best of my knowledge any of the people who organized the Web sites or movements.” He describes his on-air style as “aggressive and impassioned,” and says his February 19 rant was neither staged nor deliberate. “It was unique in that it obviously struck a chord with the public, thus inciting what can only be described as a groundswell of feedback from the public, the White House (see February 20, 2009), the Internet, and the media at large (see February 19-21, 2009). The president’s plan addressing issues in the housing market was the topic; but only the tip of the iceberg in fact. The real nerve struck seems to be the pent up emotions felt by millions of Americans regarding spending TRILLIONS of dollars to fix the housing market, the banks, and the economy. SPECIFICALLY WHO WILL PAY… WHO WILL BENEFIT.… and above all the government’s role in all of this.” He says he never supported government bailouts of any kind, neither by the Bush administration nor the Obama administration. His “rant,” he writes, “was spontaneous… not scripted… and any person, organization, or media outlet that claims otherwise IS INACCURATE.… Though it has been reported that I am a registered Republican, I have no political agenda and any person, organization, or media outlet that claims otherwise IS INACCURATE. I hope that the president and the final stimulus plan succeed.” (Santelli 3/2/2009) The same day that CNBC posts Santelli’s column, it also issues a denial to the press that Santelli has any connection to the “tea party” organizations (see March 2, 2009).

Megan McArdle.Megan McArdle. [Source: New Economist (.com)]The Atlantic’s business blogger, Megan McArdle, lambasts Playboy for publishing an article that claims the Rick Santelli “tea party” “rant” (see February 19, 2009) may have been a pre-planned incident designed to coincide with the launch of a number of “tea party” Web sites and “grassroots” organizations (see February 27, 2009). McArdle says that the suspicious timing of the chicagoteaparty.com Web site launch, hours after Santelli’s “impromptu” rant on CNBC, was nothing more than an example of someone “leap[ing] in when opportunity arose.” McArdle denies that oil giant Koch Industries, or the Koch family, funds the conservative lobbying firm FreedomWorks (see April 14, 2009), and says, “[A]stroturfing [the practice of forming fake ‘grassroots’ organizations clandestinely organized and funded by lobbying groups or corporate entities] doesn’t really seem like their style.” McArdle may not be aware of a recent Wall Street Journal expose of a FreedomWorks “astroturf” endeavor (see May 16, 2008). She does acknowledge that since FreedomWorks does not publicize its donor list, she cannot be sure Koch is not funding the group. She admits that many “tea party” organizations are funded and operated by large conservative PR and lobbying firms, and writes: “So what? Groups—often funded by God knows who—coordinate protests.” McArdle calls the article’s allegation that Santelli participated in a pre-planned, scripted event “potentially libelous,” and writes, “If I were Santelli, I’d sue.” At the very end of her column, McArdle admits that she lives with a former FreedomWorks official, Peter Suderman. She denies that Suderman influenced her writing in any way except to give her an e-mail address of “the right employee to… make inquiries” of at the firm. “I haven’t asked him about his former employer, and he hasn’t told me anything. I debated whether to write about this, but since I’m not actually defending FreedomWorks, I think it’s kosher.” (McArdle 3/2/2009) Shortly after posting her column online, McArdle posts a follow-up, with details of her conversation with FreedomWorks official Brendan Steinhauser. She identifies Steinhauser as “the chap at FreedomWorks who has helped organize the tea parties.” She calls the firm “completely open about their interest in furthering the tea parties” (see May 16, 2008 and March 13, 2009 and After). She says Steinhauser got the idea for the “tea parties” from Michelle Malkin’s blog, which is at odds with Santelli’s claim of “spontaneously” using the term (see March 2, 2009). (McArdle 3/2/2009)

CNBC denies that its financial commentator, Rick Santelli, has any connection to the “tea party” organizations that apparently spontaneously erupted within hours of his February 19 “rant” against the government bailouts of banks and automobile manufacturers (see February 19, 2009 and February 27, 2009). Santelli has also denied any affiliation with any “tea party” organizations (see March 2, 2009). The Associated Press notes that the Web site of one such organization, reteaparty.com, removed Santelli’s name from its front page after CNBC made it aware of its “dissatisfaction.” The site referred to “Rick Santelli’s Re-Tea Party” four times on its home page, urging people to organize for protests, featured an “About Rick” link with his CNBC profile, and said Santelli “voiced the sentiment of millions of Americans on the stock market floor.” The site is operated by an organization called the Political Exploration and Awareness Committee, and, in small type at the bottom of the home page, states that the “opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Rick Santelli.” The Re-Tea Party Web site is operated by California Web developer Anthony Astolfi, who worked for the 2008 presidential campaign of Representative Ron Paul (R-TX). Astolfi tells reporters that he put together the site overnight after seeing Santelli’s rant. According to the Associated Press: “He and others online are using Santelli’s statement to promote a Boston Tea Party-style protest against the government plan. Using Santelli’s name was the most effective way of drawing attention to his site, Astolfi said. He denied it was an attempt to mislead people into believing Santelli supported what they were doing.” (Associated Press 3/2/2009) CNBC has cancelled Santelli’s upcoming appearance on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show, with a spokesman saying, “It was time to move on to the next big story.” (Stelter 3/2/2009)

Rick Santelli, the CNBC commentator whose on-air “rant” is credited for sparking the right-wing “tea party” movement (see February 19, 2009 and February 27, 2009), refuses to take part in the upcoming April 15 anti-tax rallies being put on across the country by various “tea party” organizations (see April 15, 2009). CNBC spokesman Brian Steel says Santelli is “not going and not in any way involved” in the protests. Fox News anchors Neil Cavuto and Sean Hannity are joining with protesters in Sacramento and Atlanta, respectively, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich plans to attend a rally in New York. Organizers say over 300 different protests will take place across the nation. Eric Odom, who owns a Chicago-based “tea party” Web site, says, “We have fully confirmed protests in 360 cities” and he is “very confident that all the protests will happen.” Odom predicts that the rallies featuring Cavuto and Hannity will bring at least 5,000 to 10,000 participants. He stresses that the protests will be made up of people from “all walks of life,” not just conservatives opposed to the Obama administration’s policies. Odom does not mention Santelli’s non-involvement. (Delaney 4/2/2009)

CNBC, a cable business news outlet, contacts “tea party” activisits looking for anti-health care reform protests that will be confrontational and violent enough to make good television. Jenny Beth Martin, the national coordinator for the Tea Party Patriots organization, sends an e-mail to a “tea party” Google group that reads: “We have a media request for an event this week that will have lots of energy and lots of anger. This is for CNBC.… So, where are the big events this week and where can TPP best be represented on the news?” A group member, Pat Wayman, responds with a suggestion that CNBC sends crews to a health fair hosted by Representative David Scott (D-GA), where uninsured people can receive free medical care. “This one should be a riot! literally,” Wayman writes, and notes, “This is the congressman who got a swastika painted on his office sign last night” (see August 11, 2009). Wayman also includes a link to a right-wing Web site listing the Scott event. Martin will later deny recommending the Scott event or any others to CNBC for coverage, saying her group “does not endorse anything that incites violence of any kind.” She also notes that the e-mail list is unmoderated, and says, “I can’t moderate every single comment.” She will confirm that CNBC solicited an event with “lots of energy and lots of anger,” saying, “That was the impression that I received from them.” Later, Martin informs her organization that it will not become involved in Scott’s health fair. In an e-mail, she will write: “I have thought about this more and think it would be best to send a press release saying how we think the health fair is a perfect example of free market events. That we support free markets and the fact that in America we are compassionate and take care of the uninsured. Look at these businesses who are doing this without the government taking over our health care. I think TPP does not need to have a presence there. If the other groups want to do it, that is their prerogative. Right now Tea Party Patriots is under a ton of scrutiny and we need to make sure our methods are above reproach.” (Roth 8/12/2009)


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