The White House on Friday dismissed a cable television reporter's criticism of President Barack Obama's housing bailout plan as the ranting of an individual who "doesn't know what he's talking about."
In a report on CNBC on Thursday, Rick Santelli animatedly accused the Obama administration of "promoting bad behavior" with its $75 billion lifeline to millions of Americans on the brink of foreclosure.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs poked fun at Santelli by inviting him to come to the White House to read the details of Obama's plan. "I'd be happy to buy him a cup of coffee," Gibbs said. In a nod to Santelli's caffeinated style, Gibbs then wryly added: "Decaf."
Santelli took the critique in stride, saying Gibbs had hardly offered tough words.
"I think this is terrific that this has been opened up to national debate," Santelli said in an MSNBC interview shortly after Gibbs' daily briefing wrapped up. "I think it's wonderful he invited to me to the White House. I'm really not big on decaf, though. I think I'd prefer tea."
The episode underscores how closely the Obama White House, like others before it, monitors how media coverage may be shaping public opinion. In particular, the constant chatter of cable television news shows has at times gotten under the skin of White House aides, and they have made no effort to hide their displeasure.
The goal of Obama's plan is to help millions of homeowners from being evicted and stabilize the flailing housing market. It aims to help struggling homeowners refinance and provides more money to mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to encourage them to rework deeply troubled loans.
In his report on CNBC, Santelli said responsible homeowners would end up subsidizing other people's bad behavior.
From the floor of the Chicago Board of Trade, he turned to traders and said: "How many of you people want to pay for your neighbor's mortgage that has an extra bathroom and can't pay their bills?" The traders booed that notion, and Santelli said: "President Obama, are you listening?"
Santelli's report has become something of an Internet sensation.
Gibbs countered that Obama's housing plan would help those who have acted responsibly but yet could lose their home.
"Here's what this plan won't do," Gibbs said. "It won't help somebody trying to flip a house. It won't bail out an investor looking to make a quick buck. It won't help speculators that were betting on a risky market. And it is not going to help a lender who knowingly made a bad loan."
Later, Gibbs acknowledged that "there will be people that made bad decisions that in some ways will get help," but that they are not the focus. "I also think it's tremendously important that for people who rant on cable television to be responsible and understand what it is they're talking about," he said.