(h/t Ben P in "Quick Hits") Apparently, Rick Santelli's televised rant was at least 6 months in the making, according to Playboy online, which reports that the website pushing the "spontaneous" outpouring of support for Santelli was registered by name by a rigtwing Chicago media figure back in August. Whatever you think of it, Playboy has a long history of breaking stories the traditional media overlooks, and it looks like they've done it again. Because that's just the first level of the story. The deeper level is that all this pre-planned organizing is backed by the Koch family and their foundations, in much the same way that Richard Mellon Scaife supplied the main push behind Whitewater. Although there are obvious differences, and we're just at the beginning here, there are obvious similarities as well: a big bucks clandestine conservative operation speaheaded by a single family outfit, in coordination with people on the ground of the home state of a popularly elected Democratic President, fronting themselves as part of a populist opposition.
Before getting to the Playboy quote, here's what Ritholtz wrote:
I was interviewed by several journalists last week about Rick Santelli's Rant - my exact quote was it had a "Faux" feel to it. (I haven't seen it in print yet)
What was so odd about this was that Santelli is usually on the ball; we usually agree more often than we disagree. He's been responsible for some of the best moments on Squawk Box.
But his rant somehow felt wrong. After we've pissed through over $7 trillion dollars in Federal bailouts to banks, brokers, automakers, insurers, etc., this was a pittance, the least offensive of all the vast sums of wasted money spent on "losers" to use Santelli's phrase. It seemed like a whole lot of noise over "just" $75 billion, or 1% of the rest of the total ne'er-do-well bailout monies.
All this is, of course, patently obvious to anyone. But Ritholtz isn't just anyone. He's someone money people listen to. And he goes on to quote from Playboy, but mostly just about the first level....
Here's the first part of the Playboy story that Ritholtz quoted:
"How did a minor-league TV figure, whose contract with CNBC is due this summer, get so quickly launched into a nationwide rightwing blog sensation? Why were there so many sites and organizations online and live within minutes or hours after his rant, leading to a nationwide protest just a week after his rant?
What hasn't been reported until now is evidence linking Santelli's "tea party" rant with some very familiar names in the Republican rightwing machine, from PR operatives who specialize in imitation-grassroots PR campaigns (called "astroturfing") to bigwig politicians and notorious billionaire funders. As veteran Russia reporters, both of us spent years watching the Kremlin use fake grassroots movements to influence and control the political landscape. To us, the uncanny speed and direction the movement took and the players involved in promoting it had a strangely forced quality to it. If it seemed scripted, that's because it was.
What we discovered is that Santelli's "rant" was not at all spontaneous as his alleged fans claim, but rather it was a carefully-planned trigger for the anti-Obama campaign. In PR terms, his February 19th call for a "Chicago Tea Party" was the launch event of a carefully organized and sophisticated PR campaign, one in which Santelli served as a frontman, using the CNBC airwaves for publicity, for the some of the craziest and sleaziest rightwing oligarch clans this country has ever produced. Namely, the Koch family, the multibilllionaire owners of the largest private corporation in America, and funders of scores of rightwing thinktanks and advocacy groups, from the Cato Institute and Reason Magazine to FreedomWorks. The scion of the Koch family, Fred Koch, was a co-founder of the notorious extremist-rightwing John Birch Society."
And here's the second, which establishes the short-term connections between different out-front actors:
"Within hours of Santelli's rant, a website called ChicagoTeaParty.com sprang to life. Essentially inactive until that day, it now featured a YouTube video of Santelli's "tea party" rant and billed itself as the official home of the Chicago Tea Party. The domain was registered in August, 2008 by Zack Christenson, a dweeby Twitter Republican and producer for a popular Chicago rightwing radio host Milt Rosenberg-a familiar name to Obama campaign people. Last August, Rosenberg, who looks like Martin Short's Irving Cohen character, caused an outcry when he interviewed Stanley Kurtz, the conservative writer who first "exposed" a personal link between Obama and former Weather Undergound leader Bill Ayers. As a result of Rosenberg's radio interview, the Ayers story was given a major push through the Republican media echo chamber, culminating in Sarah Palin's accusation that Obama was "palling around with terrorists." That Rosenberg's producer owns the "chicagoteaparty.com" site is already weird-but what's even stranger is that he first bought the domain last August, right around the time of Rosenburg's launch of the "Obama is a terrorist" campaign. It's as if they held this "Chicago tea party" campaign in reserve, like a sleeper-site. Which is exactly what it was.
But Ritholtz didn't quote from some of deeper sleuthing that was done:
ChicagoTeaParty.com was just one part of a larger network of Republican sleeper-cell-blogs set up over the course of the past few months, all of them tied to a shady rightwing advocacy group coincidentally named the "Sam Adams Alliance," whose backers have until now been kept hidden from public. Cached google records that we discovered show that the Sam Adams Alliance took pains to scrub its deep links to the Koch family money as well as the fake-grassroots "tea party" protests going on today. All of these roads ultimately lead back to a more notorious rightwing advocacy group, FreedomWorks, a powerful PR organization headed by former Republican House Majority leader Dick Armey and funded by Koch money.
On the same day as Santelli's rant, February 19, another site called Officialchicagoteaparty.com went live. This site was registered to Eric Odom, who turned out to be a veteran Republican new media operative specializing in imitation-grassroots PR campaigns. Last summer, Odom organized a twitter-led campaign centered around DontGo.com to pressure Congress and Nancy Pelosi to pass the offshore oil drilling bill, something that would greatly benefit Koch Industries, a major player in oil and gas. Now, six months later, Odom's DontGo movement was resurrected to play a central role in promoting the "tea party" movement.
Up until last month, Odom was officially listed as the "new media coordinator" for the Sam Adams Alliance, a well-funded libertarian activist organization based in Chicago that was set up only recently. Samuel Adams the historical figure was famous for inspiring and leading the Boston Tea Party-so when the PR people from the Chicago-based Sam Adams Alliance abruptly leave in order to run Santelli's "Chicago Tea Party," you know it wasn't spontaneous. Odom certainly doesn't want people to know about the link: his name was scrubbed from the Sam Adams Alliance website recently, strongly suggesting that they wanted to cover their tracks. Thanks to google caching, you can see the SAA's before-after scrubbing.
Even the Sam Adams' January 31 announcement that Odom's fake-grassroots group was "no longer sponsored by the Alliance" was shortly afterwards scrubbed.
But it's the Alliance's scrubbing of their link to Koch that is most telling. A cached page, erased on February 16, just three days before Santelli's rant, shows that the Alliance also wanted to cover up its ties to the Koch family. The missing link was an announcement that students interested in applying for internships to the Sam Adams Alliance could also apply through the "Charles G. Koch Summer Fellow Program" through the Institute for Humane Studies, a Koch-funded rightwing institute designed to scout and nurture future leaders of corporate libertarian ideology. The top two board directors at the Sam Adams Alliance include two figures with deep ties to Koch-funded programs: Eric O'Keefe, who previously served in Koch's Institute for Humane Studies and the Club For Growth; and Joseph Lehman, a former communications VP at Koch's Cato Institute.
All of these are ultimately linked up to Koch's Freedom Works mega-beast.
There is clearly much, much more to this story, which itself should serve as a reminder of how little we really know about all the many scandals of the Bush era.
Ritholtz claims no further knowledge about any of this, but opines that if true, "Santelli may have to fall on his sword, and CNBC may owe the public an apology."
We shall see. Ordinarily one would not think so. This is just how the right wing rolls. But in case you hadn't noticed, "ordinary" is changing. After all, ordinarily someone like Ritholtz wouldn't even be writing about something like this.
Clearly, this story belongs on Countdown and Rachael Maddow, stat. But, wait, CNBC? MSNBC? Something's gotta give.