CNBC fight on COVID-19 restrictions blows up on air

Two CNBC hosts got into an extraordinary early morning fight over COVID-19 restrictions and masks on Friday during a discussion over how restaurants are being devastated by the pandemic.

Rick Santelli, a CNBC personality who won fame and attention in 2009 with a rant from the Chicago Mercantile Exchange suggesting that a tea party should be started during that recession, argued that it didn’t make sense to shut down restaurants when parking lots at big box retailers were jam-packed with cars and people.

“You can’t tell me that shutting down, which is the easiest answer, is the only answer,” Santelli said, which drew an immediate rebuke from another CNBC personality, Andrew Ross Sorkin, who is also a financial columnist for The New York Times and has previously had on-air disputes with colleagues on CNBC over the appropriate precautions to take for COVID-19.

“Rick, just as a public health and public service announcement for the audience, the difference between a big box retailer,” Sorkin said, before Santelli cut him off.

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“Who is this,” Santelli asked. The two were speaking from different settings along with another five CNBC personalities and guests.

Someone off-screen at that point can be heard saying “who else, who else,” which appeared to lead Santelli to nod his head.

Sorkin responded by holding out his arm and hand to the camera for Santelli to let him speak.

“The difference between a big box retailer, and a restaurant or frankly even a church, are so different it’s unbelievable,” Sorkin said as Santelli shook his head up and down and crossed his arms in front of his chest, signaling evident frustration with Sorkin.

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The two then began to shout over one another, with Santelli yelling “I disagree, I disagree. I disagree. You can have your thoughts, and I can have mine” while Sorkin said “You’re required to wear a mask. It’s science. I’m sorry, it’s science.”

“It’s not science,” Santelli said with exasperation. “Five hundred people in a mall aren’t any safer than 150 people in a restaurant that holds 600. I don’t believe it. Sorry, I don’t believe it. And I live in an area where there are a lot of restaurants that have fought back and they don’t have any problems and they’re open.”

“Well you don’t have to believe it, but you’re doing a disservice to the viewer,” Sorkin replied, before Santelli said, “You’re doing a disservice to the viewer. You are. You are.”

“I’m sorry, I would like to keep our viewers as healthy as humanly possible. The idea of packing people in restaurants,” Sorkin said before Santelli talked over him: “I think our viewers are smart enough to make part of those decisions on their own.”

CNBC’s Steve Liesman then asked: “How’s that working out for you Rick, look at the numbers.”

Santelli said, “It’s working out fine, Rick. It’s working out fine.”

He then said he understood that a lot of people were dying and it’s a horrible thing, “I just think the way we deal with it isn’t optimal.”

Another anchor then ended the conversation, saying it was clear people wouldn’t agree.