Good Morning America co-host Robin Roberts didn’t even try for objectivity on Wednesday when she talked to pay czar Kenneth Feinberg about his attempts to stop AIG CEOs from receiving bonuses. "We can feel the fire in your belly," she enthused after Feinberg touted the administration’s efforts at reining in bonuses. "And that's great to see," Roberts opined.
After Feinberg proudly told Roberts, "I do not, for a minute, ignore the outrage out there, which I share," the GMA co-host marveled, "We can see that." The pay czar assured the ABC anchor that "we’re doing a very good job" of "getting as much of this money back as we can." Roberts rhapsodized, "Progress is being made. No doubt about it."
Although the host seemed quite impressed with Feinberg’s outrage over AIG, she failed to ask any questions about the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac compensations packages announced on Christmas Eve and totaling $42 million. But, this is not a new phenomenon. The Business & Media Institute’s Julia Seymour explained on January 6 how journalists were ignoring the company, which has had strong political connections to high profile Democrats:
"Outrage." That’s what the networks found when private companies that accepted bailouts compensated their executives. It’s also what taxpayers would feel if the networks were actually reporting the latest developments with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which have been protected for years by high profile Democrats Reps. Chris Dodd, Conn., and Barney Frank, Mass.
But since the Christmas Eve announcement of millions in salaries and bonuses and the Obama administration’s pledge of "unlimited financial assistance" to the mortgage giants, ABC and CBS offered a total of three brief mentions totaling 175 words about Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. NBC hasn’t mentioned them at all.
A transcript of the segment, which aired at 7:06am EST on February 3, follows:
ROBIN ROBERTS: And joining us now from Washington is the Federal Pay Czar, Kenneth Feinberg, who oversees the compensation for employees of financial entities that have received government bailouts. Thank you so much for joining us. You heard what Bianna just said. $124 billion. That was- that was the bailout. And they're giving out $100 million in bonuses. And people are saying, just how can that be?
KENNETH R. FEINBERG (Treasury executive pay czar): It's outrageous But there's three points you have to understand to summarized. First, these bonuses are the result of contracts entered into before the TARP law was even implemented. These are old, grandfathered contracts that have the legal force of law. Second, AIG is working hard to try and reduce the size of these bonuses. They've had some success. It's a lot of money. It's understandably frustrating. But understand what AIG is at least trying to do. This new regime at AIG. And finally, most importantly, from Treasury, from my perspective, last year, this very same unit, financial products, pledged to repay $45 million in previous bonus money. The President, the Secretary of the Treasury, Treasury insisted that that money be repaid, pursuant to those pledges. $39 million of that $49 million- $45 million, has been returned to the Treasury and to the taxpayer. There’s still six and a half, seven million to go. But we are insisting that money be repaid.
ROBERTS: We can feel the fire in your belly. And that's great to see. But still, people at home who are trying to make ends meet, they are going, like, "But, what can be done?" There's even outrage, as you know, on Capitol Hill. In fact, the senior Republican for the Senate Finance Committee, Senator Charles Grassley said in a statement last night. He said this, "AIG has taxpayers over a barrel. The Obama administration has been outmaneuvered. And the closed-door negotiations just add to the skepticism that the taxpayers will ever get the upper hand." How do you respond to that?
FEINBERG: I have a lot of respect for Senator Grassley. I really do. We are not being outmaneuvered. These AIG bonuses were signed into law years ago. What I'm trying to do now is maximize whatever leverage we have to get as much of that money back and to maneuver- to use Senator Grassley's word, to maneuver AIG to pay back what it said it would pay back. We're making some progress. I do not, for a minute, ignore the outrage out there, which I share.
ROBERTS: We can see that.
FEINBERG: But, the fact of the matter is- but the fact of the matter is, we have got to abide by the law. We've got to work as best we can to get as much of this money back as we can. And frankly, we're doing a very good job I think, in getting as much of this money back as we can, pursuant to the rule of law.
ROBERTS: Progress is being made. No doubt about it. But, when we talked about it last year- we're talking about it again this year. When does it end?
FEINBERG: Well, I think it ends this March with the last of these retention payments. These are the old, grandfathered payments that we're trying to work with AIG to get as much of that money back. And I think by March, another month or so, these old guaranteed bonuses will be a thing of the past.