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Correction from the White House: Obama is not keen on banker bonuses

February 11, 2010 | 10:43 am

Lest there be any mistake, the White House would like everyone to know that President Obama has no warm feelings about banker bonuses.

The White House went into action after the financial news service Bloomberg put up an article on Wednesday suggesting that Obama might be looking for some detente with Wall Street executives.

Bloomberg's item led with the headline, “Obama Doesn’t 'Begrudge' Bonuses for Blankfein, Dimon,” referring to Lloyd Blankfein, the chief executive at Goldman Sachs, and Jamie Dimon, the chief executive at JPMorgan Chase.

ObamaAP The headline was atop an article about an exclusive interview that Obama had granted Bloomberg’s BusinessWeek magazine. When the reporters asked Obama about this year’s bank bonuses, he said, “I, like most of the American people, don't begrudge people success or wealth. That's part of the free market system.”

The resulting headline quickly got beamed around the world, given its apparent departure in tone from Obama’s recent tongue lashings concerning Wall Street’s platinum pay packages. But the White House quickly jumped in to dampen any hope for a thaw in relations.

On the White House’s blog on Wednesday evening, spokeswoman Jen Psaki wrote, “A recent headline from an interview the President did with Bloomberg yesterday inaccurately made it sound like the President brushed off the impact of bonuses and applauded the role of bankers. This naturally came as a surprise to the many people who share his outrage at the behavior that continues on Wall Street and is not an accurate portrayal of where the President stands or what he said during the interview.”

The interview and Obama’s response were neatly summed up at the end of the Bloomberg article the White House was attacking. Compensation expert Mark Borges told Bloomberg that Obama is “trying to walk a very fine line.”

“He wants to represent popular anger at the bailout and Wall Street pay, while at the same time trying not to alienate these guys, who he needs if he’s going to get reforms enacted,” Borges told Bloomberg.

Bloomberg did not appear to be discouraged. On Thursday, the news service was up with a new nugget from the interview, this one noting that Obama had expressed unexpected admiration for FedEx CEO Frederick Smith, a regular Republican donor.

The White House was quick to clarify to Bloomberg that the president also respected the leaders at Verizon and Honeywell.

-- Nathaniel Popper

Photo: President Obama. Credit: Ben Curtis / Associated Press