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Rick Santelli, the CNBC reporter whose on-air suggestion of a “Chicago Tea Party” to protest President Obama’s housing plan sparked an Internet sensation and a smattering of actual protests across the country, found himself on the defensive Monday.
Mr. Santelli published a long blog post on CNBC’s Web site Monday evening denying any affiliation with the “tea party movements that have popped up” since his comments were broadcast. A number of blogs had questioned whether Mr. Santelli had coordinated his on-camera commentary with right-wing groups.
On Feb. 19, during one of his regular live reports from the Chicago Board of Trade, Mr. Santelli mentioned the tea party idea as part of a longer screed about the homeowner assistance plan.
At one point, as the traders around him booed the president’s housing proposals, he asked: “President Obama, are you listening?” The president’s press secretary, Robert Gibbs, was, and responded the next day by saying that Mr. Santelli “doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”
Since the commentary, which was viewed millions of times on CNBC.com and YouTube, dozens of “tea party” protests have taken place in cities across the country, and some conservative groups are planning a Tax Day Tea Party for April 15.
Mr. Santelli’s televised commentary appeared spontaneous to viewers. However, the Internet domain name ChicagoTeaParty.com was registered in August 2008 — well before his commentary — but not used until afterwards. The registration was first reported by two bloggers for Playboy’s Web site who said it was evidence that Mr. Santelli’s remarks were a “carefully planned trigger” for the protests. (The blog post was removed without explanation Monday.)
Zack Christenson, a producer for a conservative radio talk show host, confirmed in a telephone interview Monday that he had registered the domain, but called it a “pure coincidence.” He had intended to use it to start a roving cocktail party for conservatives and libertarians in Chicago, he said, and heard about Mr. Santelli’s commentary only when a person offered to buy the domain from him.
Supported by a potent conservative public relations machine, the tea party concept has gained significant traction since Mr. Santelli’s rant. FreedomWorks, a nonprofit group that mounts grassroots campaigns, has made Mr. Santelli the emblem of its efforts to oppose the stimulus, publishing his face on its home page and asking: “Are you with Rick? We are.”
Bill Hennessy, a director at a marketing company in St. Louis, who organized a protest under the city’s Arch on Friday, credited Mr. Santelli with inspiring the protest. “We have permission to say that we don’t agree with continuing to borrow money to pay off what were essentially bad bets that other people made,” he said.
In his blog post Monday, Mr. Santelli, who voted for John McCain in the presidential election, wrote that his comments had been spontaneous and that he had “no affiliation or association” with any of the Web sites or protests.
The attention around Mr. Santelli’s views now appears to be a distraction at CNBC. (The New York Times has a content-sharing agreement with the network.) Mr. Santelli declined interview requests on Monday, and the network canceled his appearance on “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart” on Wednesday. “It was time to move on to the next big story,” a CNBC spokesman said.