By Ben Cohen: On our 'Video of the Day' section, we put up a clip of CNBC host Maria Bartiromo engaging in a nasty spat with Current TV's Eliot Spitzer on the AIG/Hank Greenberg scandal. It's an entertaining back and forth and Bartiromo comes off particularly badly in her defense of Greenberg given she clearly hadn't read the judge's opinion ruling that the ex AIG head had participated in conspiracy to defraud. Writes Matt Taibbi of the encounter:
Maria's always been a little nuts, but this latest crusade to rewrite history and cleanse ex-AIG chief Hank Greenberg of culpability in a fraud scandal that at the time led to the biggest financial settlement ever paid is an absolute head-scratcher.
The confrontation between the two of them on air is epic. In it, Bartiromo blasts Spitzer for going after Greenberg and accuses him of only targeting Greenberg for personal reasons. Spitzer counters by asking her if she's read a judge's opinion ruling that Greenberg had participated in a conspiracy to defraud. "Have you read this opinion?" he asks.
She hedges, pauses, and here's the funny part: Clearly she hasn't read it.
This is typical of Bartiromo - a Wall St cheer leader who has been wrong on just about everything related to economics in recent years. AIG settled with Spitzer and three other regulators for $1.6 billion, and Greenberg personally settled for $15 million in a civil suit over fraudulent transactions related to the artificial inflation of AIG’s loss reserves and deceit of AIG’s investors in regards to the company’s loss reserves and the quality of its earnings.
What is amazing about Bartiromo is her indefatigable crusade to defend the rich and powerful despite the damning evidence against them, not only criminally, but ideologically.
I wrote a piece about Bartiromo back in 2009 for the Huff Post containing much of the same criticism. Here was my take then:
A few months back, I wrote a letter to 'The Money Honey' Maria Bartiromo trying to explain some basic economic principles she seemed to have missed in her 16 year career as a business journalist. Bartiromo had just interviewed Barack Obama, grilling him on his plans to increase tax on people making more than $250,000 a year. According to Bartiromo, these people weren't actually rich, and the burden of paying their fair share would freeze up the economy and destroy the system that created wealth in America. I pointed out that anyone making over $250,000 (over 10 times the poverty threshold for a family of four) could probably afford to pay a little more in taxes, and that her economic ideology had caused the recession in the first place. At that time, the economy was in dire shape, but nothing compared to the horrors we face today. I never heard back from the CNBC host, but I liked to think she may have changed her tune after the almighty economic meltdown.
Now the economy is free falling into the abyss, the CNBC host is unfortunately at it again, railing against Obama's stimulus plan, and proposal to tax people making over $250,000......
Ignoring the fact that only 2% of small business and individuals make over $250,000, Bartiromo's pleas are clearly aimed at helping the business elite she has spent a career sucking up to. Bartiromo's solution, like all the other members of the business classes, is to rely on private capital to stimulate the economy, describing the problems as a 'lack of liquidity in the market'. Making sure that the richest of the rich still have disposable money they may or may not give to charity, or may or may not use to create jobs is of paramount importance, despite the overwhelming consensus that government spending is the only way out of this recession.
Bartiromo has made a career out of distorting fact, and it's hard to swallow the notion that she genuinely believes what she is saying anymore. Bartiromo is still calling for market solutions to the stalling economy and goes out to bat for the Wall St titans responsible for driving the economy into the ground on a daily basis. Bartiromo represents the worst side of American corporate culture - blind deference to the rich and powerful and a strict adherence to the ideology du jour no matter how ridiculous it is. Perhaps she knows what she is doing, perhaps not, but the reflex is clearly instinctive now: Protect the rich and attack the poor regardless of the facts. I've used this quote from Upton Sinclair before in a piece related to the deliberate misunderstanding of overwhelming evidence, but I think it's worth repeating. Sinclair wrote, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” Bartiromo exemplifies this to the nth degree, except I'm not so sure she doesn't understand it. It's a good thing that people like Eliot Spitzer call her out on her parroting of Wall St propaganda. Spitzer told Bartiromo:
Maria, look, I hate to say this to you, deal with facts and reality, not what Hank Greenberg’s PR machine wants you to believe. Hank Greenberg was thrown out by his own board. His company paid $1.6 billion in a settlement, acknowledged that his accounting was fraudulent. These are in facts. Read the federal judicial opinion. He was the one that instigated the conspiracy. He is the one that began, this is a federal judge, began and instigated the conspiracy, fraudulent reinsurance contract.
The problem is that Bartiromo, who is reportedly worth $22 million, doesn't deal with facts and reality - otherwise she wouldn't be where she is today. There's a lot of money to be made believing and promoting an ideology that serves the interests of the wealthy, a trick Bartiromo figured out a long time ago. One would hope that actual facts would make a difference at some point, but in the world of finance, reality doesn't seem to matter.