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TheStreet Open House

Geithner the Shoplifter: 'Stress Test'

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- With the 2008 financial crisis now firmly in the rear view mirror, and Tim Geithner's reputation on relatively solid ground, it is easy to forget the disastrous public perception of him in the days after his appointment as Treasury Secretary.

It is clear from his newly-released book "Stress Test," however, that Geithner will never forget. He knew right away he was in trouble as he prepared for a critical public appearance at which he was expected to unveil his strategy for dealing with the worst crisis since the Great Depression.

Treasury secretaries are supposed to inspire confidence. Our signatures go on dollar bills. And I knew that good theater-being clear and calm, conveying an impression of competence and credibility-could be as important to confidence as good substance. But I had always been a backstage guy.

His description of the Feb. 10, 2009 speech is painful to say the least. Five years later, it is also pretty funny.

It is fair to say the speech did not go well. I swayed back and forth, like an unhappy passenger on an unsteady ship. I kept peering around the teleprompter to look directly at the audience, which apparently made me look shifty; one commentator said I looked like a shoplifter...Stocks plummeted more than 3 percent before I finished talking and nearly 5 percent by the end of the day.

After finishing his speech he sits down for an interview with NBC anchor Brian Williams and sees a graphic on the screen which reads "Is Geithner's Neck on the Line?"

And the next day, President Obama, who had raised everyone's expectations ahead of the Geithner speech, was "not happy," according to Geithner, and asked, "How the hell did this happen?"

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