“Can you explain to us in an entirely understandable way what Bitcoin is?” was the question that introduced many Britons to Russia Today financial commentator Max Keiser as he presented his plainspoken approach to money on the BBC satirical news show "Have I Got News For You."
His answer was simple. “It’s an electronic currency that’s used exactly like money except it’s not backed by any state, so you have no state interference and they can’t print it,” he said during the Nov. 1 primetime broadcast, which was watched by 7 million people.
Almost immediately after the audience heard Keiser's explanation of something that few understand, the value of bitcoin shot up by about $30 (from about $210/unit) over the following three days.
“In Cyprus, when the banking system started to collapse, the adoption of Bitcoin skyrocketed. Same thing in Greece. Same thing in Venezuela,” said Keiser, whose full name is Timothy Maxwell Keiser.
The energetic and controversial presenter has built a reputation on saying the things that others appeared too scared to say and has been a constant thorn in the side of many in the banking world, including JPMorgan Chase & Co. (NYSE:JPM), which he alleges sold silver that did not physically exist to artificially hike the price. The reality is if someone came to collect that silver, JPMorgan would be forced onto the open market to buy it, he has said. While his trash-talking may come across as a mere ratings ploy -- for example, he called for a fatwa on then-U.S. Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson at the height of the global financial crisis -- Keiser has been cited in nearly every top business publication to date giving his view on a wide variety of financial issues.
Keiser, 53, grew up in Westchester, N.Y., and attended New York University, where he studied theater. He took a part-time job at Paine Webber as a stock broker in the 1980s before going on to create the HSX Holdings/Hollywood Stock Exchange, allowing traders to exchange virtual securities with convertible virtual current, known as the “Hollywood Dollar.” The exchange was later bought by renowned financial services firm Cantor Fitzgerald.
Keiser then went into a broadcasting career producing short financial documentaries for Al-Jazeera before moving to BBC World News to do "The Oracle with Max Keiser," where he covered current affairs with a humorous spin.
While he continues to present "The Truth About Markets" on Resonance 104.04 in London and RDU 98.5 in Christchurch, New Zealand, he and his wife, Stacy Herbert, also work on "The Keiser Report" on the Kremlin-funded RT television network. The show takes complex financial issues and presents them as easy-to-understand chunks with an edge and a lot of shouting.
Such is the popularity of the show, he’s been able to invite names such as actress Roseanne Barr, political figures like George Galloway and a host of comedians to discuss politics and finance.