Santelli’s Rant

(Update: Blogger Dean Baker puts a bit of perspective on Santelli’s rant.)

In the world of talk radio and cable television bloviation, Rick Santelli’s rant is but a blip on the radar screen. While it is a cause celebre on the blogs, after the first blush of attention it will fade into the thousands of other oddities archived on YouTube.

More surprising, however, was the coverage it received on NBC Nightly News. It was high in the lineup but no mention was made of the journalism ethics of a reporter erupting into an ideological rant on live television. (Santelli is described as an "on-air editor" by CNBC .) The story was treated as a cultural event with only passing mention of any factual content.

There are times when journalism and cable news seem mutually exclusive terms. In a culture coarsened over the last several years by snarky commentary or worse, the content of Santell’s rant wasn’t particularly notable. That he stepped out of his role as an editor, or reporter, or whatever he is, to editorialize while on live television is about the only newsworthy point I can find in the affair. And that he did not meltdown a few weeks ago when funds were being given to Wall Street banks and mortgage brokerage companies has not gone unnoticed by some bloggers.

It’s not surprising that public reaction to his rant has been favorable. People are fed up with the financial crisis and the ongoing stress it is creating.We’ve lost jobs, pensions, homes and hope. The frustration is palpable. In some parts of the world, it’s explicit , making Santelli’s behavior more questionable.

Loss of jobs, lack of food and increasing poverty threaten social stability. This is well-known and well-documented. Dennis Blair, the director of national intelligence, recently told the Senate intelligence committee that the global economic crisis is the number one threat to U.S. security outflanking terrorism.

In this environment, even if the U.S. is not in the same fragile condition as smaller, less stable states, rants on radio and television contribute to division and discord. Whether they act as pressure valves for letting off steam or invitations to the irresponsible to act out their frustrations is a matter of speculation.

Popular discontent does not justify the breakdown of standards in journalism. There is an ongoing discussion among those in the profession about "new" journalism and advocacy journalism and the place of objectivity in reporting. This discussion is also affected by the merger of entertainment with traditional journalism as taught in journalism school. However, unless I missed something, it appears to me Santelli’s remarks were not appropriate for one in his role, nor in the context of his assignment. His behavior reflects negatively upon the professionalism of the news colleagues with whom he is identified at CNBC. Commentary, clearly identified is one thing. Blowing your stack because your neighbors are getting mortgage assistance and you’re not is another.

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