Rick Santelli, the veteran CNBC correspondent, recently got into an on-air spat with one of his longtime colleagues. Whether he will be given leeway to spar in similar fashion with new co-workers elsewhere in the company is something executives at NBCUniversal ought to work quickly to decide.
During an early-December panel on the business-news network’s “Squawk Box,” Santelli began to yell at Andrew Ross Sorkin, who pressed him on comments he had made about coronavirus restrictions at restaurants. Sorkin pushed his colleague to exercise greater caution about suggesting viewers should be able to crowd into restaurants the way they do into retail outlets.
“Who is this? Who is this?” asked Santelli, even though Sorkin has been a co-host of the program for almost a decade. As Sorkin prodded Santelli to reconsider what he said, the correspondent went into an on-air huff. “I disagree. I disagree! I disagree!” said Santelli, his voice rising with the issuance of each short sentence. “You can have your thoughts and I can have mine. I disagree.”
The piece goes on to describe the “culture clash” between people who are loud but mostly harmless and occasionally say a true thing, and people like Santelli and Bartiromo who are saying things that are not true and are actively hurting people. It is not a “culture clash” when one part of a news division says hey, maybe it will hurt our credibility to have science-deniers on TV all day every day jerking Trump off. That’s not, like, a problem with the decorations at the office party.
What if, instead of having a policy encoded in the HR manual, you just … didn’t hire dishonest political actors and/or, when the mostly normal people you hired turned Tea Party-feral on live television, you disciplined or fired them?
CRAZY TALK. I’m aware. Okay, let’s not make it about people and their sincerely held beliefs that COVID cannot travel inside a restaurant. How about just having a policy of individuals, whatever their private Facebook posts may say, not spouting dishonest shit on the air? Could we get behind that? How about our news policy should be that if you are demonstrably full of crap, if you are saying things that are not true, that can be debunked by a half-competent barn cat on shrooms, we don’t, you know, do that no more?
I KNOW, okay, there would be nothing to broadcast, this is why 24-hour cable news channels should be nuked from orbit or at least banned from the waiting rooms of dentist’s offices and airports. But this is the kind of that that, once it’s implemented at this high a level, filters down to your local fishwrap and becomes a cudgel to beat on anyone who speaks up about anything, regardless of substance.
Because that’s the thing. These aren’t regulated militias of relatively equal strength meeting for choreographed skirmishes on neutral ground. What someone is saying matters just as much as how loud and often they’re saying it. Are they being loud and obnoxious and combative in service, to, you know, the actual truth and the keeping of people alive? Or are they shouting things like BUY BEAR STEARNS when the company is about to go tits-up in a fashion that makes the Titanic look well-maintained?
Keeping that dude and his ten-a-penny imitators in the cocaine-piles to which they’ve become accustomed is not a problem with a “clash” of attitudes, it’s a problem with tolerating punditry being wrong all the time with zero consequences for said pundits, within the “corporate culture” or without.
Instead of making this about tactics and decibel levels and whether someone “glared” at the camera perhaps these fine news organizations should be examining if any of the information they’re giving to their audiences is remotely true or not. That would be a good place to start.
ps. It is not okay for an entire network to be full of shit, broadcasting said shit 24 hours a day
on the public airwaves, and for us all to shrug like “oh, that’s just Fox, you can’t expect a leper colony to not have any lepers.” It is not okay to just write off an entire propaganda network and let it exist so long as it doesn’t spread. Look around. It has spread some.