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CNBC's Santelli Reacts to NYTimes Label of Tea Party 'Heroes and Inspiration'

It’s curious to see people in the mainstream media try to make sense of the Tea Party movement. The New York Times, which once called the Tea Parties a psychological phenomenon rather than a political movement, has now changed its tune.

In the wake of the stunning upset by Scott Brown in the Jan. 19 Massachusetts special election to fill the seat vacated by Ted Kennedy’s death, the Times is attempting a more analytical look at the so-called “tea party tiger.” Specifically, the Times looked at some key figures in the movement, Sen. Jim DeMint, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, Fox News host Glenn Beck and CNBC CME group reporter Rick Santelli.

CNBC ‘Squawk Box’ co-host Joe Kernen told Santelli about the Times story on Jan. 25.

“The whole Massachusetts – the whole situation, there were four guys on the top and you were on the right,” Kernen said. “I think it was either The New York Times or the weekend Wall Street Journal – Rick Santelli, CNBC reporter, tea party moniker. I was proud Rick. It’s amazing. I mean, you are like a cultural phenomenon at this point. It must feel weird.”

The story Kernen was referring to was Sam Tanenhaus’ piece in the Jan. 23 New York Times. Tanenhaus referenced Santelli’s “on-air call” for a tea party over the White House’s proposal of a housing bailout plan and contrasted Santelli to former Louisiana governor and infamous populist Huey P. Long.

“The period’s most gifted populist politician, Huey P. Long, spoke movingly of the ‘criminal’ farm foreclosures he had seen as a boy in rural Louisiana, and advocated that all Americans received a ‘homestead allowance’ and guaranteed annual income,” Tanenhaus wrote. “Contrast this with the televised eruption by Rick Santelli, the CNBC reporter who is often said to have spawned the Tea Party movement early last year. In his widely replayed rant, Mr. Santelli vented his ire not at bailouts of Wall Street firms or the Detroit auto makers, but rather at Mr. Obama’s plan to assist homeowners unable to pay their mortgages.”

Santelli’s response was simple. He explained he was happy to play the role of “lightning rod” when it came to the public trust.

“No, if I’m a lightning rod for people to get more actively involved in their tax dollars, for that I’m quite happy,” Santelli said.

Following Santelli’s call for a tea party March 31, 2009 and subsequent criticism from White House officials, insiders alleged that executives at NBC Universal strongly discouraged Santelli from playing the role of tea party instigator.