Diane Sawyer's Surprisingly Tough Interview With Geithner: Hits Massive Spending, Tax Increases

Good Morning America co-host Diane Sawyer on Tuesday conducted a surprisingly tough interview with Tim Geithner, grilling the Treasury Secretary on tax increases, spending and highlighting the 9/12 rally in Washington D.C. Speaking of the American people, she asserted, "They don't see a possible way out without tax raises."

After Geithner tried to squirm out of responding, Sawyer, who will leave GMA in January to become the anchor of ABC’s World News, reiterated, "Are you still guaranteeing that no one in America will have their taxes raised unless they make more than $250,000 a year?" Geithner noted how this was a "commitment" for the President, prompting Sawyer to again attempt to nail down a firm answer: "That's your promise? It will not happen?"

Another strong moment for the host came when she actually asked the Treasury Secretary to comment on the 9/12 rally in Washington D.C.:

SAWYER: There were tens of thousands of people in the street in Washington over the weekend. [Graphic appears onscreen: "Countries That Own U.S. Debt: China $776 billion. Japan $712 billion. Britain $214 billion."] Saying things like, "Just look at the reality. If you’re facing a $1.6 trillion deficit, if you’re facing IOUs to other countries, where suddenly they own America, our children are imperiled."

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER AT 9/12 RALLY: Stop spending our money. I have a grandbaby, a year old, who isn't going to have a dime.

SAWYER: One woman said, they won't have a discretionary dime.

Featuring an accusatory tea party protester in an interview with an Obama official is certainly unusual and Sawyer should be commended for highlighting the marchers concerns in a respectful manner.

At times during the segment, Sawyer did fall back into reciting liberal platitudes. Repeating a Warren Buffett line that the stimulus was like "half a Viagra," the host pressed, "And if it means another stimulus, another half of Viagra, you'll do it?" Earlier in the piece, she chided Geithner about executive bonuses, wondering, "Is that fair?" And it’s also true that GMA devoted six and a half minutes to the Obama official, a longer interview segment than most Republicans are given on the program.

But, overall, Sawyer did what journalists should do, and that's press the people in power for answers. On the auto bailout, she queried, "By next year, will we be out of the auto business?" When Geithner gave a somewhat vague response, she tried again: "Two years? Three? Four?"

Hopefully, this interview will be more indicative of how Sawyer operate as host of World News. To read some less impressive Sawyer moments, check out the MRC’s Profile in Bias.

A transcript of the September 15 segment, which aired at 7:12am EDT, follows:

DIANE SAWYER: Now, a chance to hear from the man at the center of America's financial future, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner. He helped deploy the famous TARP funds credited with saving America from financial abyss. But, at what price? Take a look at this graphic of the last 100 years. What America owes to other countries now has skyrocketed. Gone through the roof. So, giant deficits, the agony of unemployment, all on the table as I sat down with Secretary Geithner for his first ever morning show interview. Mr. Secretary, welcome to our morning.

TREASURY SECRETARY TIM GEITHNER: Nice to be here.

SAWYER: What's the difference in the way you woke up today and the way you woke up a year ago?

GEITHNER: It’s dramatically different. You know, a year ago, we were really on the verge of a full scale run, a classic panic. People were starting to think about taking their money out of banks. Hadn't happened in a century. It was a remarkable thing. There was just real fear. And economic activity effectively stopped around the world. Things just came to a grinding halt.

SAWYER: And waking up this morning, what's the biggest fear?

GEITHNER: The biggest fear now- let's say the biggest challenge- is to make sure we change the rules of the game so this doesn't happen again. That's the biggest challenge. That’s the hardest challenge.

SAWYER: So, you’re saying you are saying you can guarantee that it will not happen again?

GEITHNER: No, we can't do that. But what we have an obligation to do is to make sure we put in place rules here and around the world to make that much less likely, rules that will protect consumers better, make the system much more stable is. That's the obligation of governments.

SAWYER: There were tens of thousands of people in the street in Washington over the weekend. [Graphic appears onscreen: "Countries That Own U.S. Debt: China $776 billion. Japan $712 billion. Britain $214 billion."] Saying things like, "Just look at the reality. If you’re facing a $1.6 trillion deficit, if you’re facing IOUs to other countries, where suddenly they own America, our children are imperiled."

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER AT 9/12 RALLY: Stop spending our money. I have a grand baby a year old, who isn't going to have a dime.

SAWYER: One woman said, they won't have a discretionary dime.

GEITHNER: We got into this because we borrowed too much. We live beyond our means. Both as a country, many businesses did it. Many families did it. Obviously, the financial sector did it. But in a crisis, in a fire that was that powerful, the government had to do some deeply offensive things to help contain the damage. And we will get out of that as quickly as we can. We're not going to keep a penny in the financial system or in economy longer than we think is absolutely necessary.

SAWYER: By next year, will we be out of the auto business?

GEITHNER: I think it's going to take longer than that. Just to be honest and realistic.

SAWYER: Two years? Three? Four?

GEITHNER: We’re going to get out as soon as we can.

SAWYER: TARP expires at the end of the year. Extending it?

GEITHNER: We haven't made that determination yet.

SAWYER: And tax credits for first time home buyers? Extending it?

GEITHNER: The range of things in the recovery act that were very important, very helpful in bringing growth back. And we'll take a careful look at which of those deserves some temporary extension.

SAWYER: One of the things people say, looking forward, is they understand the intention is to get out of this.

GEITHNER: Right.

SAWYER: They don't see a possible way out without tax raises.

GEITHNER: But look what we've already done. This is an important sign of credibility. People should take confidence from that. Now, on the budget deficits, I think Americans understand that we have an unsustainable fiscal position, that we’re going to have to bring those deficits down over time. And the President's committed to doing that.

SAWYER: Are you still guaranteeing that no one in America will have their taxes raised unless they make more than $250,000 a year?

GEITHNER: President committed to that in the campaign. He feels very, very strongly about that. And we can get our fiscal house in order. We can go back, as a country, to the point we're living within our means, without violating that basic commitment.

SAWYER: That's your promise? It will not happen?

GEITHNER: That’s his commitment. And he’s very committed to that. And if you look at what we’ve done, again, he put in place as part of the recovery plan, a tax cut that went to 95 percent of working Americans.

SAWYER: Perhaps the most bruising part of this for individuals families, of course, jobs. And we have a new poll out which shows that 47 percent of Americans say that either a job loss or a cut in pay has affected their household. That’s half of America looking at a Christmas they believe is going to be very different from the Christmas on Wall Street where salaries are still sky high. Is that fair?

GEITHNER: No. It’s not fair. And that’s the tragedy of the financial crisis is that the people who are responsible, they were careful, had nothing to do with the crisis, bear a huge amount of the burden for the crisis itself.

SAWYER: We have 15 million people looking for two million jobs.

GEITHNER: What we can say is we will do everything sensible, everything we think is effective, to help get growth back on track.

SAWYER: Going to extend unemployment benefits?

GEITHNER: Very likely the Congress will do that. And they should.

SAWYER: So, for the people out there, again, who still believe there are two recoveries. One for main street, and one for Wall Street, you say it's true?

GEITHNER: I would say there's no recovery yet. We don't have in place yet a real recovery. We define recovery. And the President will define recovery as, as, as people back to work. People able to get a job again. Businesses investing again. And we are not at the point where we can say that yet. You know, you said, Diane, at the beginning, people are worried we did too much. And some people worried we haven't done enough yet.

SAWYER: Yes. Warren Buffett said that it's like taking half a Viagra.

GEITHNER: Yeah. What the President said, which is important, we're going to do what it takes to get the economy growing again.

SAWYER: And if it means another stimulus, another half of Viagra, you'll do it?

GEITHNER: Well, we’re going look at any sensible program that offers the prospect of getting growth to a stronger position sooner, we'll take a look at it.

SAWYER: Flash-forward, a year from now. Talk to somebody sitting in their kitchen this morning, breaking breakfast and terrified about their lives and kids.

GEITHNER: A year from now, growth will be stronger. Unemployment will be lower. It will be easier to find a job. Incomes will be growing more rapidly. People will be able to be more confident in the value of their savings. They'll be more likely to put their kids through college. Things will be getting better. But, again, it’s important for people to understand, it took a while to get into this. It will take a while to get out. There's no easy, quick, immediate, quick fix for these things. It's going to require a long period of change in behavior. The government has to help that transition. Help that transition. And we're making some progress.

SAWYER: Thank you.

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