CNBC’s “Squawk Box” hosts Andrew Ross Sorkin and Joe Kernen got into a shouting match in a Wednesday segment about the road to economic recovery.
Sorkin accused his co-host of downplaying the dangers of the pandemic, including the loss of 100,000 American lives. Kernen retorted that Sorkin was being alarmist and sparking undue concern, and maintained that his goal was to help investors keep a cool head.
The exchange highlights the deep divide in how to respond to what is both a public health and financial crisis. Business and social activity was suspended in much of the country to contain the spread of the deadly virus to devastating results for the economy. Some believe the economic damage is worse than the pandemic itself.
“You panicked about the market, panicked about COVID, panicked about the ventilators, panicked about the PPE, panicked about ever going out again,” Kernen said to Sorkin. “What good is panic?”
Sorkin interrupted, suggesting Kernen had repeatedly made light of the pandemic to support President Donald Trump, who has pushed for a speedy reopening of the economy despite warnings from experts that it could lead to a new wave of infections and fatalities.
“And you didn’t panic about anything,” Sorkin yelled. “100,000 people died, Joe, and all you did was try to help your friend the president … Every single morning on this show you abused and used your position.”
The co-hosts also sparred over the pandemic’s effect on financial markets. U.S. markets have rebounded significantly from their March lows, even as the economic carnage has grown more acute, with unemployment shooting to 14.7 percent in April and nearly 40 million job losses since the pandemic took hold in the United Stets.
Kernen contended that the markets would have plummeted had investors listened to Sorkin’s concerns, pointing out that the U.S. is “near the low end” of per capita deaths.
Sorkin maintained that Kernen had missed signals of economic distress and that he was trying to “get through some of this clutter.”
“I wasn’t arguing for you to go sell your stocks, Joseph,” Sorkin shouted. “I was arguing about people’s lives.”
“It’s terrible that we’ve lost 100,000 lives. It’s terrible,” Kernen said. “But it was never going to be that we weren’t going to come back and we weren’t going to return to normal … giving credence to all that panic didn’t help any investors at all, or people with their anxiety.”
CNBC did not immediately respond to requests for comment.