Network News Embraces Obama's Wall Street-Bashing

After years of agitation over what they saw as President George W. Bush's self-righteous moral certitude, journalists on Thursday night embraced President Barack Obama's vilification of those working for Wall Street firms who got a bonus last year. “Shameful,” NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams teased his newscast, “that's how President Obama labels those Wall Street types paying themselves big bonuses while getting billions in tax dollars.” Reporter Chuck Todd referred to how Obama was “channeling his inner populist” as he “got upset about something that the public has been angry about for weeks.”

CBS's Katie Couric led with how “we found out what it takes to get Barack Obama angry,” that “employees of financial companies in New York collected nearly $18.5 billion in bonuses last year” and “the President called it 'shameful.'” Chip Reid related how “the President told advisors the anger rose straight from his gut” before Reid relayed that another liberal politician, New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, “said the President's remarks are 'a welcome breath of fresh air.'”

Echoing Couric, ABC anchor Charles Gibson announced: “The President did not mince words this afternoon. Indeed, he was angry.” Dan Harris, who showcased a clip of left-wing cable TV host Jon Stewart, backed up Obama's take: “These bonus numbers are not only infuriating to the President, many Americans are bewildered and angry, too.”

Only the CBS Evening News, in a follow-up piece from Anthony Mason, noted how many on Wall Street have “taken huge pay cuts” and explained how bonuses are part of basic compensation: “While it's true that more than $18 billion in bonuses was paid to Wall Street workers in 2008, that plunged nearly 50 percent from the record $34 billion two years ago. The average worker saw a 37 percent drop in bonus pay last year to $112,000. That's the lowest level in five years. What's more, Wall Street uses the term 'bonus' differently.” Viewers then heard from Scot Melland of Dice Holdings:
It's more than likely that the bonuses paid to these financial services people accounts for 50 percent or 75 percent of their total compensation and it's geared to revenue brought in or success they brought into the firm. So it's more akin to a sales commission than what you or I would think about as a bonus.
The MRC's Brad Wilmouth provided these transcripts of the Thursday, January 29 stories on CBS and ABC:

CBS Evening News:
KATIE COURIC: Tonight, huge bonuses on Wall Street, outrage on Pennsylvania Avenue.

BARACK OBAMA: That is the height of irresponsibility.

...

COURIC: And good evening, everyone. In the second week of his presidency, we found out what it takes to get Barack Obama angry, and this is what did: a report that employees of financial companies in New York collected nearly $18.5 billion in bonuses last year, even as the industry was drowning in debt and collecting taxpayer bailouts. The President called it "shameful." From the White House, here’s Chip Reid.

CHIP REID: In the Oval Office today, the President blasted Wall Street bankers for taking billions of dollars in bonuses while pleading for a bailout to keep them afloat.

OBAMA CLIP #1: -at a time when most of these institutions were teetering on collapse and they are asking for taxpayers to help sustain them-

OBAMA CLIP #2: -that is the height of irresponsibility. It is shameful.

REID: The President told advisors the anger rose straight from his gut as he read reports that New York City securities industry employees got more than $18 billion in bonuses in 2008, the sixth highest total on record. It's about the same amount they got in 2004. But then, Wall Street was flying high. Now they're getting fat bonuses while millions of Americans are watching their nest eggs evaporate. It's time, the President lectured, for Wall Street to show some discipline.

OBAMA: - that they have to start acting in a more responsible fashion if we are to, together, get this economy rolling again. There will be time for them to make profits, and there will be time for them to get bonuses. Now is not that time.

REID: The President said he plans to talk directly to Wall Street executives, just as Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner did earlier this week, when he stopped Citigroup from taking delivery of a $50 million private jet after the bank got $45 billion in a taxpayer bailout.

OBAMA: We shouldn't have to do that because they should know better.

REID: Late today, New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, who has some oversight responsibility over Wall Street, said the President's remarks are “a welcome breath of fresh air.” He said he looks forward to working with the Obama administration “to ensure that Wall Street wakes up to its new responsibilities and abides by a new code of corporate responsibility.” White House officials say the President wants nothing less than to redo the way Wall Street does business. That ambitious goal will begin when he issues new regulations governing the financial industry soon.
ABC's World News:
CHARLES GIBSON: Welcome to World News. Tonight, President Obama lashes out at the billions in bonuses paid on Wall Street.

BARACK OBAMA: That is the height of irresponsibility. It is shameful.

...

GIBSON: Good evening. The President did not mince words this afternoon. Indeed, he was angry. On a day when the government reported a record number of workers filed claims for unemployment benefits, President Obama came down hard on Wall Street for paying $18 billion in bonuses to executives last year.

OBAMA: At a time when most of these institutions were teetering on collapse and they are asking for taxpayers to help sustain them, and when taxpayers find themselves in the difficult position that if they don't provide help that the entire system could come down on top of our heads, that is the height of irresponsibility. It is shameful. There will be time for them to make profits, and there will be time for them to get bonuses. Now is not that time.

GIBSON: So with more on the bonuses, Dan Harris is here. Dan?

DAN HARRIS: Hi, Charlie. These bonus numbers are not only infuriating to the President, many Americans are bewildered and angry, too. Even as Wall Street firms buckled under losses from risky mortgage-related investments, and even as taxpayers shelled out hundreds of billions of dollars to bail those companies out, the state of New York estimates that the bonuses that Wall Street firms paid out last year represented the sixth largest hall ever. There is anger on the street-

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Disgusted, outraged, it's appalling.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I think it's shameful.

HARRIS: -on the Web with people calling for those bonuses to be collected back, and on late night TV.

WALL STREET EXECUTIVE: If you don't pay your best people, you will destroy your franchise.

JON STEWART: You don't have best people! You lost $27 billion! Do you live in "Bizarro World"?

HARRIS: Wall Street executives often argue that bonuses are needed to retain the best and brightest.

STEVEN HALL, STEVEN HALL AND PARTNERS: The only assets that the company has are the people that can make the money. Without those people, there's no business, there's no way of generating revenue and making profits.

HARRIS: But with banks firing, not hiring, these days, others say that argument simply does not fly.

PROFESSOR JONATHAN KOPPELL, YALE UNIVERSITY: I'd like to see somebody who's willing to actually test the market if they thought that their bonus was not good enough. You know, let's roll the dice and say, "Hey, you know, Bob, sorry, we could only give you a $500,000 bonus this year. If you want to walk out the door and try and find yourself a better job, knock yourself out."

HARRIS: Wall Street may be playing a dangerous game here at a time when Congress is considering rewriting the basic rules of American capitalism.

KOPPELL: When you send the message loud and clear to Congress that you are incapable of policing yourself, you are basically asking for Congress to write a more intrusive regulatory set of rules.

HARRIS: And tonight, administration sources tell ABC News that next week, when the administration unveils a major new plan to fix the financial system, there are going to be provisions in there that crack down on Wall Street bonuses.
Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center