On Monday’s American Morning, CNN anchor John Roberts interviewed former Playboy CEO Christie Hefner, and introduced her as being “added to our roster of economic analysts.” Roberts also failed to mention Hefner’s long-time support for President Obama during the segment.
The interview, which started just before the bottom-half of the 8 pm Eastern hour of the CNN program, began with Roberts giving the following introduction of the former Playboy CEO: “...[T]he economy is issue number one here at CNN....We love to get expert commentary on this, and we are pleased and proud this morning to have added to our roster of economic analysts the former CEO and chairwoman of Playboy Enterprises, Christie Hefner.” He first asked Hefner about the jobs market, and the economy as a whole. Hefner touted how that the “sense that I’m getting, in talking to CEOs, is that people are hoping for a late 2010 recovery.” Later, the anchor asked the former CEO about executive bonuses, and played a sound bite from Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill, who railed against the “bunch of idiots on Wall Street.” Hefner praised McCaskill’s “very good characterization” and labeled her a “pro-business Democrat,” despite her vote last year against a proposed increase in the exemption on the “death tax,” which would have aided small family-run businesses.
Despite mentioning President Obama briefly during the interview, Roberts did not mention that Hefner has supported the Democrat since his 2004 senatorial campaign. CBS’s Charles Osgood mentioned how Hefner has been “an Obama supporter since the president ran for U.S. Senate as a long shot” during a profile the previous day on the Sunday Morning program. He also mentioned that “Christie Hefner’s next act is to join a California think tank to help develop policy for the Obama administration” and that “[s]he and her husband had A-list seats at his inauguration.” The Politico’s Ben Smith gave more details of the CEO’s support of Obama in a May 18, 2007 post on his blog.
Outside her twenty-year experience as the CEO of the porn giant, Hefner’s credentials as an “economic analyst” could be called into question by the fact that Playboy’s stock lost 80 of its value during her last year there, as reported by the Chicago Tribune on December 9, 2008.
The full transcript of Roberts interview of Christie Hefner’s from Monday’s American Morning:
JOHN ROBERTS: 27 minutes now after the hour -- of course, the economy is issue number one here at CNN. We talk about it all the time. We love to get expert commentary on this, and we are pleased and proud this morning to have added to our roster of economic analysts the former CEO and chairwoman of Playboy Enterprises, Christie Hefner. She’s in Chicago this morning. Christie, you just stepped down from the position after so many years on Friday. And let’s just get your take, because you just came out of the corporate world, on where we are here -- 2.6 million jobs lost in 2008. You cut 100 there at Playboy Enterprises. You’re shutting down the Manhattan office, moving all the operations back to Chicago. What’s your overall assessment of where we are in the jobs market and where we’re headed?
CHRISTIE HEFNER: Well, I think you’re going to continue to see, as we have, companies really taking almost aggressively belt-tightening moves because of the uncertainty of the near-term recovery. So, I think companies are concentrating on getting their cost structure in order and making sure their balance sheets are strong, because that’s really what’s going to separate the survivors from the companies that are going to struggle -- is strong balance sheets.
ROBERTS: So, when they’re making these cost-cutting measures, how far out are they looking, in terms of where the recovery might be?
HEFNER: The sense that I’m getting, in talking to CEOs, is that people are hoping for a late 2010 recovery, so you can imagine, if the expectation is an 18 to 24-month recession, that CEOs and boards are going to cut deep right now.
ROBERTS: So, the latter part of 2010? That’s a long way off.
HEFNER: It is, and I think that the plan that people are operating under is, they like to be pleasantly surprised, and they cannot afford to be unpleasantly surprised.
ROBERTS: But this all kind of, though, feeds a vicious circle, doesn’t it? If, you know, companies trying to improve the bottom line, trying to look better in the eyes of Wall Street. They’re shedding jobs, cutting costs, but at the same time, they’re sort of feeding into that recession because the more people who get laid off, you know, the worse the economy gets because there are fewer people out there buying things.
HEFNER: I completely agree, John, and I think the ripple effect in the service industries of these massive layoffs from, you know, Home Depot to Caterpillar, from Microsoft to Sprint, is yet to be felt. And while there’s a lot of commentary about the capital markets and the toxic, you know, bank -- toxic-loan buyouts, all of which, of course, is an important focus -- I think the bigger challenge is going to be the job creation and the necessity of focusing on both those industries that can drive it and those policies that can support it.
ROBERTS: Christie, I also wanted to get your take on this idea of the Wall Street bonuses. As you know, the president, President Obama, came out and said that they were outrageous. Senator Claire McCaskill wants to change things around -- $400,000 maximum in executive compensation for companies that get assistance from the bail-out plan. And let’s listen to what she said about these Wall Street gurus in giving out these $18.7 million [sic] in bonuses.
SENATOR CLAIRE MCCASKILL: We have a bunch of idiots on Wall Street that are kicking sand in the face of the American taxpayer. They don’t get it. These people are idiots. You can’t use taxpayer money to pay out $18 billion in bonuses.
ROBERTS: So, obviously there was a little bit of political rhetoric in there from the floor of the Senate, but, you know, are these Wall Street CEOs tone-deaf when it comes to appearances?
HEFNER: I think that’s a very good characterization, and indeed, Senator McCaskill is a pro-business Democrat. So, this is not coming from the far-left, and I think it’s a reflection of this sense that’s widely held out in America that these decisions, you know, whether it’s the million-dollar office renovation or the $50 billion [sic] plane or the bonuses, are not reflective of what makes sense. Now, my own view is that the best way to set new compensation policy is probably not to have it done just in Washington. Part of what has happened was the law of unintended consequences when comp was set at a $1 million limit for tax deductibility, which drove a lot of use of options. And what’s needed now longer term is a much more complex understanding of how to factor in risk and the right time horizon for evaluating the generation of bonuses. So, I’m hoping that some of the smart financial CEOs, say a Jamie Dimon, will work collaboratively with Congress on what is a sane and fair compensation plan going forward.
ROBERTS: Christie Hefner, it’s great to get your take on things. Thanks for joining us, and we hope to see a lot more of you in the coming days.
HEFNER: Thank you, John.
ROBERTS: Appreciate it.