CNN's Factcheck Failure on Occupy Wall Street

CNN's Erin Burnett worked for Goldman Sachs and Citigroup before becoming a corporate business news reader. Last week she announced her engagement to Citigroup executive David Rubulotta, a managing director in high-yield sales. CNN's executives hope that Burnett's new show will help with CNN prime time's flagging ratings.

CNN's Factcheck Failure on Occupy Wall Street

Former CNBC reporter Erin Burnett's CNN show OutFront debuted Monday night (10/3/11) with a failed attempt to factcheck the Occupy Wall Street protests.

The show kicked off with Burnett explaining that she:

...went to Wall Street today to see those protests for myself. I saw dancing, bongo drums, even a clown.... I asked several protesters what it was that they wanted. Now, they did not know.... They did know what they don't want.

Burnett added that "it seems like people want a messiah leader, just like they did when they anointed Barack Obama."

That segued into an interview with center-right CNN pundit John Avlon, a former speechwriter for Republican Rudolph Giuliani. Avlon dismissed the protests ("It's tough to get your demands taken seriously dressed when you're dressed as a zombie"), adding that "conservative populism has always played a major role in American politics. Liberal populist marches like this tend to alienate more people than they attract."

After that discussion, Burnett attempted to set the protesters straight on the facts. As she put it: "What are they protesting? Nobody seems to know. So, this afternoon, we went to Wall Street to find out."

Burnett quizzed one protester: "So do you know that taxpayers actually made money on the Wall Street bailout?" When he says that he was unaware of this, Burnett insists it is true -- and goes on to argue that it basically negates the whole point of the protest:

That's all it would take to put an end to the unrest? Well, as promised, we did go double-check the numbers on the bank bailout, and this is what we found. Yes, the bank bailouts made money for American taxpayers, right now to the tune of $10 billion, anticipated that it will be $20 billion. Those are seriously the numbers. This was the big issue, so we solved it.

The TARP program is not, in fact, the "big issue" of the Occupy Wall Street movement; the concerns about inequality and lack of democracy go far deeper than that. When the Wall Street bailouts are discussed by protesters, the point they seem to be making about it is that banks benefited from generous bailouts that the vast majority of Americans would never enjoy. (As one popular chant puts it: "Banks got bailed out! We got sold out!")

And the fact that the loans were repaid does not mean that they were not a subsidy to the banking industry. How much would it have cost the banks to get the money they needed to survive from private sources? The difference between those terms and what the government actually charged was a gift to the bankers--one that will never be paid back.

The assumption that society as a whole benefited from helping out the banks is debatable, though you rarely if ever see it debated in corporate media (Extra!, 10/10). As economist Dean Baker wrote (9/20/10):

We are also supposed to feel good that the vast majority of the TARP money was repaid. This is another effort to prey on the public's ignorance. Had it not been for the bailout, most of the major center banks would have been wiped out. This would have destroyed the fortunes of their shareholders, many of their creditors, and their top executives. This would have been a massive redistribution to the rest of society--their loss is our gain.

And the Wall Street bailouts are about far more than TARP. As Bloomberg News recently reported (8/22/11), Federal Reserve lending programs to the banking industry topped $1.2 trillion.

These government policies went a long way towards protecting the interests of Wall Street giants. Working people got very little, and the unemployment and foreclosure crises continue to wreak considerable damage on the economy. This is why people are protesting.

The economists and analysts who have criticized these policies could explain this to Erin Burnett's audience. MSNBC host Lawrence O'Donnell, for instance, interviewed Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz last night (10/3/11) after he made an appearance at the protests.

Burnett used to work for the same financial companies that profited from the bailouts--Goldman Sachs, Citigroup--and she is engaged to be married to a Citigroup executive (Business Insider, 9/30/11). Burnett's journalistic career includes plenty of attempts to promote Wall Street interests, earning her praise from the likes of Rush Limbaugh (FAIR Blog, 10/3/11). She even tried to defend Wall Street giants from criticism over using TARP funds to pay giant bonuses (FAIR Blog, 2/3/09).

If CNN is interested in factchecking claims about Wall Street, they might want to start by taking a look at those made by their new host. At the very least, the show should invite the economists and policy experts who could set the record straight.

Please tell CNN's OutFront that Erin Burnett's factcheck of Occupy Wall Street needs factchecking.

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