ABC's Terry Moran to Obama: Why Don't You Just Fire Bank Execs?

"Nightline" co-anchor Terry Moran on Tuesday interviewed Barack Obama and pressed him from the left, wondering why he didn't simply fire the executives who the journalist blamed for "wreck[ing] these banks in the first place." The two were discussing the stimulus bill and the current economic problems on Wall Street. As the MRC's Brent Baker already noted in a previous blog, Moran also seriously wondered, "Why not just nationalize the banks?"

After the President suggested that such an idea was unworkable and didn't make sense, the host persisted. Moran challenged, "People are angry." Going further, the ABC journalist queried, "Why shouldn't you just fire the executives who wrecked these banks in the first place and tanked the world's financial system in the process?"

Moran, who spent the day with Obama at a campaign rally in Florida, began the segment by effusively describing the "stoked" crowds at the President's events. Moran rhapsodized, "It's a wildly friendly crowd here. They cheer him on. They amen him. They're ready to vote for him again in four years." The day after the 2008 election, on November 5, Moran sounded a similar theme on the emotion of Obama crowds at the moment of victory. Back then he enthused, "No one who was in Grant Park in Chicago last night will ever forget it. The jubilation. The emotion. The pride."

On Tuesday, Moran also conducted a brief joint interview with Obama and Florida's Republican governor, Charlie Crist, who supports the stimulus bill. The journalist prompted Crist to bash his GOP colleagues in Washington, observing, "What's the disconnect between you as a Republican governor here in Florida and Washington Republicans?" When the governor ignored the question, he tried again: "How do you account for the difference?"

To be fair to Moran, he did offer two somewhat tough questions that weren't from the left. Pressing Obama to explain exactly how much this spending bill will cost, he asked, "Can you say how much, ballpark figure, that will cost the American taxpayer? A trillion, a trillion-five, two trillion?" Later, acknowledging the view of the GOP in the House, Moran charged, "The Republican argument is that you and Nancy Pelosi are using the need for a stimulus bill as an excuse to jack up spending under a traditional liberal Democratic agenda."

For more on this segment, see a February 10 NewsBusters posting by Brent Baker. In that blog, Moran whined to Obama that he "got no honeymoon. Not a single Republican vote in the House on your first major piece of legislation." He also suggested, "I wonder in coming into the presidency, maybe you were too nice?"

A partial transcript of the February 10 segment, which begins at 11:37pm, is below:

TERRY MORAN: In Fort Myers, the big plane comes in for a landing. A sleek symbol of the power and reach of the presidency. People gather to wave at the motorcade en route. This is one economically hard-hit town though. The Fort Myers area has the highest home foreclosure rate in the country. The unemployment rate has tripled in two years to nearly 10 percent. The big crowd downtown waiting for him is stoked. Backstage, President Obama is joined by Florida Governor Charlie Crist, a Republican. Given the partisan scene in Washington, that's unusual. And we'll talk to them both about it later. Right now though, it's show time.

ANNOUNCER: The president of the United States, Barack Obama.

MORAN: Out here, the partisan dogfights of Washington seem a long way away.

AUDIENCE CHANTING: Yes, we can. Yes, we can.

MORAN: Governor Crist introduces him and unlike almost every Republican in Washington, he supports the president's stimulus bill.

GOVERNOR CHARLIE CRIST: It's getting harder every day and we know that it's important that we pass the stimulus package. It's important-

MORAN: It's a wildly friendly crowd here. They cheer him on. They amen him. They're ready to vote for him again in four years.

11:43

TERRY MORAN: So, Treasury Secretary Geithner today has laid out the plan for the banks and judging by the reaction in the markets, Wall Street really doesn't like your plan.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, you know, Wall Street, I think, is hoping for an easy out on this thing and there is no easy out. Essentially, what you've got are a set a banks that have not been as transparent as we need to be in terms of what their books look like. And we're going to have to hold out the Band-Aid a little bit and go ahead and just be clear about some of the losses that have been made because until we do that, we're not going to be able to attract private capital into the marketplace.

MORAN: There's the idea, a strict audit of the banks with the government providing direct help and incentives to get private investors to come in and save the sick financial system. Can you say how much, ballpark figure, that will cost the American taxpayer? A trillion, a trillion-five, two trillion?

OBAMA: I can't say the ballpark figure. What I can say is-

MORAN: Why not?

OBAMA: Well, because ultimately, what happens is going to depend on how the markets respond over the long term, not today or the next day but a month from now or two months from now. How effective we are in actually cleaning out some of these bad assets out of these banks.

11:50

MORAN: You have been sounding some very dire warnings about the economy in recent days. How close do you think the country is to the kind of economic catastrophe that you're warning about?

OBAMA: Well, you know, I'm constantly trying to thread the needle between sounding alarmist, but also letting the American people know the circumstances that we're in. And the fact of the matter is that we are in not just an ordinary recession. We are in a perfect storm of financial problems and now a decline in worldwide demand that is resulting in huge numbers of jobs being shed. The lowest consumer confidence we have seen, credit locked up. And so this is a big, difficult situation. Now, I think we've got to keep perspective. We're not going through the Great Depression.

MORAN: This time, like the Great Depression, it's the near collapse of the banking system that has helped bring the economy to its knees. There's one option out there the President rules out. Why not just nationalize the banks?

OBAMA: You know, the scale of the U.S. economy and the capital markets are so vast and the problems in terms of managing and overseeing anything of that scale I think would- our assessment was that it wouldn't make sense. And we also have different traditions in this country and we want to retain a strong sense of private capital fulfilling the core investment needs of this country.

MORAN: People are angry. There's so much taxpayer money going into the banks. Why shouldn't the government - why shouldn't you just fire the executives who wrecked these banks in the first place and tanked the world's financial system in the process?

OBAMA: Well, some of them are gone because their institutions have effectively collapsed. You know, keep in mind though there are a lot of banks that are actually pretty well managed. So, what we want to do is to say if you're take money from the taxpayers then you're gonna be constrained in terms of how you give yourself compensation and shareholders are gonna be empowered. If you're not taking money, then you know we'll let shareholders and boards of directors handle things as they generally have handled them.

MORAN: President Obama also plans a huge injection of public capital. Taxpayer money into the economy. The $800 billion stimulus bill, the one Republicans are nearly unanimous in opposing. Arguing that much of the spending won't stimulate anything. The Republican argument is that you and Nancy Pelosi are using the need for a stimulus bill as an excuse to jack up spending under a traditional liberal Democratic agenda.

OBAMA: There are a set of folks who just don't believe in government intervening in the marketplace period. I mean, they're still fighting FDR and the New Deal. What they've been doing is picking the one or two percent of the entire package that fell in the category of policy and then just going after that, ignoring the fact that 98 percent of the package is exactly the kind of stimulus that people would want.

11:59

MORAN: In Florida today, President Obama is working together with Republican Governor Charlie Crist, who was a top contender to be John McCain's running mate. We talked to both of them just after our interview with President Obama. So, why? Why are you here, governor?

GOVERNOR CHARLIE CRIST: Well, I'm here because it's important to my state and this stimulus package would help us with education, infrastructure, healthcare and we've got a budget that's getting tighter day by day.

MORAN: So, Governor, in Washington, not a single Republican House member voted for this bill. Only three Republican senators. What's the disconnect between you as a Republican governor here in Florida and Washington Republicans?

CRIST: I can't explain that. All I can explain is my perspective. And it's really as being the CEO of Florida and how it affects my state and how it affects our people and that it will benefit them enormously and that's how I look at it. It's no more complicated than that.

MORAN: How do you account for the difference?

OBAMA: Well, I think Governor Crist described it properly. He's on the ground. He's dealing with folks every day. I think in Washington, there's a danger where the debates get very abstract. And frankly, that they're very ingrown. It becomes more of a competition between Democrats and Republicans for power or attention or who's controlling chambers than it is about what's happening on the ground. And that's a danger that both parties can fall into. It's something that I want to fight. That's why it's so useful for me to come out and be on the ground here because it reminds me of what's going on and why I was sent to Washington in the first place.

CRIST: Nothing like the voice of the people.

OBAMA: Absolutely.

Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock is the senior news analyst for the Media Research Center and a contributing editor for NewsBusters.org