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Adam Green

Adam Green

Posted February 2, 2009 | 04:51 AM (EST)

NBC Has An Erin Burnett Problem


UPDATE: Jim Cramer and Erin Burnett responded on the air.

One of the big journalistic lessons of the Iraq War was that "embedded" reporters who get one side of the story are not well suited to give accurate information to the public.

Americans now depend on the media for accurate information about the financial crisis. This Sunday's Meet The Press made something absolutely clear: Journalists who are "embedded" on Wall Street and depend on Wall Street execs for access on a day-to-day basis are ridiculously unqualified to give the public good information about the economic crisis.

Indeed, NBC has an Erin Burnett problem. Watch and see for yourself how Burnett consistently serves as an apologist for Wall Street's worst practices:

NBC even (accidentally?) admitted Burnett's pro-Wall Street bias. Just look at the headline they put up after the show, summarizing her main message: "Erin Burnett: We must help banks." Really?

At the end of this post, I'm going to ask you to email Erin Burnett (here) and ask her to reform her ways.

But first, here are a few of her gems from this Sunday--all of which are also in the video.

Burnett got warmed up by talking about how the public is completely confused when we're worried how bailout recipients are spending our money:

It is amazing, when you listen to so much of the commentary out there, that it focuses on bonuses or private jet use or, or also just that they're not lending. None of these things, really, are, are the real issue here...it isn't choosing Main Street vs. Wall Street. That is a completely false choice that is being put out there.

Her "embed" status was on full display when Claire McCaskill's comments about Wall Street bonuses came up. Notice how dismissive Burnett is of populism (aka, politicians speaking to the will of the people -- that quaint and silly notion):

SEN. CLAIRE McCASKILL (D-MO): They don't get it. These people are idiots. You can't use taxpayer money to pay out $18 billion in bonuses. What planet are these people on?

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY: Fair question, Erin?

MS. BURNETT: I understand the outrage, and you understand the populism. There are, though--well, how should we say this? The taxpayer money is not being used to pay the bonuses. I think people could understand if you work for a company--right? If the three us worked for a company, your guests, and I lost $10 billion but Steve [Forbes] over there, he made a billion dollars. So overall the company actually loses money, but Steve went and did his very darndest for that company and he made money. So should he be paid for his work? That's essentially what we're talking about here. And reasonable people could argue about this, but many reasonable people would conclude, yes, he should be paid for that. And I think, David, you've raised a fair point, which is maybe it's the whole use of the word "bonus."

MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.

MS. BURNETT: If you explained to people this is how they are compensated, that might make a difference. But there is also a fundamental misunderstanding. The taxpayer money isn't being taken and paid out in the form of bonuses. It goes in a, a separate pool, shall we say, a separate account for banks. So maybe people don't care about that distinction, but it is there.

Say it with me: Wow!

First of all, I hope you caught the channeling of Sarah Palin in there. Knowing that Wall Street execs are doing their "darndest" to make money shines a whole new light on things, doesn't it?

Second, isn't it good to know that you're, how should I say this, stupid? You thought an executive's "bonus" was a bonus! Silly member of the public. If only you understood.

Third, can I borrow ten bucks? Thanks. "Hey, everyone, watch me make a paper airplane with this ten bucks, and...there it goes away!" What? No, I didn't just throw away your ten bucks. That came from a "separate pool." Who are you anyway? Oh, a member of the public. That explains it. You just don't, how should I say it, understand anything. Can I borrow another ten bucks?

I've worked with a lot of reporters, and most of them are very nice people. I'm sure Burnett is pleasant as well. But what she's doing here professionally is a real problem, and it's NBC's problem at the end of the day. The public simply can't afford to have economic news given to us by Wall Street "embeds."

We need Burnett to listen to her Wall Street sources, be skeptical of them, ask them very tough and sometimes uncomfortable questions, and be willing to report negatively on them when they abuse the public trust. If they never talk to her again, so be it. Donald Rumsfeld won't talk to some reporters either -- and where is he today? Disgraced in history.

Please email Erin Burnett today and let her know we need responsible reporting here.

(It's also worth noting that the guests Meet The Press invited on to discuss the economic crisis were Erin Burnett, Steve Forbes, and Moody's Mark Zandi -- all Wall Street voices. There was no progressive voice like Paul Krugman there to stick up for the public. If you want more balance on Meet The Press roundtables, take a moment to give them feedback here.)

P.S. If you're a bold progressive, feel free to stay in the loop with the Progressive Change Campaign Committee. I actually didn't write this post in my capacity as co-founder of the PCCC, but if you are progressive and enjoy fighting back, please do stay in the loop with us.