The roundtable on Sunday's Meet the Press (2/1/09) sure didn't look promising: Republican flat tax enthusiast Steve Forbes, former McCain economic adviser Mark Zandi and CNBC reporter Erin Burnett. It was Burnett, though, who delivered a head-scratching defense of the$18 billion bonuses recently doled out at Wall Street firms (many of which are still standing thanks only to the government's multi-billion dollar TARP bailout).
As Burnett explained, the populist anger was misplaced (see bold):
BURNETT: I understand the outrage, and you understand the populism. There are, though–well, how should we say this? The taxpayer money is not being used to pay the bonuses. I think people could understand if you work for a company–right? If the three us worked for a company, your guests, and I lost $10 billion but Steve [Forbes] over there, he made a billion dollars. So overall the company actually loses money, but Steve went and did his very darndest for that company and he made money. So should he be paid for his work? That's essentially what we're talking about here. And reasonable people could argue about this, but many reasonable people would conclude, yes, he should be paid for that. And I think, David, you've raised a fair point, which is maybe it's the whole use of the word "bonus."
BURNETT: If you explained to people this is how they are compensated, that might make a difference. But there is also a fundamental misunderstanding. The taxpayer money isn't being taken and paid out in the form of bonuses. It goes in a, a separate pool, shall we say, a separate account for banks. So maybe people don't care about that distinction, but it is there.
Really? That's just a "separate pool" money? As Adam Green and Media Matters point out, that sure doesn't seem to be the case. The original New York Times report (1/29/09) and several others rounded up by Media Matters quote several experts making exactly the opposite point– that without the bailout funds, bonuses would have been much lower.
This isn't the first time Burnett's raised some eyebrows; she once warned that critics of China should go easy, since safe food and lead-free toys are likely to cost more. And a Today show report she did cheering the soaring Dow and the lamenting the tax burden of the super-wealthy earned her an "attagirl" from Rush Limbaugh.