CORRECTED - FED FOCUS-Chattier Bernanke tries to keep US Fed on message

WASHINGTON Dec 5 (Reuters) - Ben Bernanke is ready for his close-up.
As the Federal Reserve tries to counter suspicion of its latest $600 billion stimulus plan, it is making a concerted, if awkward, effort to raise the chairman's profile and harmonize the often-dissonant message from within the central bank.

One big fear Bernanke must counter stems from the Fed's bloated balance sheet: with some $2.3 trillion in reserves sloshing around the U.S. banking system, some economists and many Republican politicians say inflation is bound to get out of hand.

Another element of the Fed's image problem is the lingering stigma of Wall Street bailouts during the financial crisis, brought to light again last week by data revealing just how heavily major investment banks, including foreign ones, leaned on the Fed for survival. 

Barely two years later, the same banks have returned to making handsome profits and rewarding executives with gold-plated pay packages, even as the U.S. unemployment rate remains near 10 percent.
An appearance by Bernanke on CBS television's "60 Minutes" program, to air on Sunday at 7 p.m. EST (0001 GMT), is the Fed's latest push to defend its controversial drive to lower borrowing costs from political encroachment and intense criticism from overseas.

In a first for a Fed chairman, Bernanke published an opinion piece in The Washington Post just hours after the bank launched a new round of monetary easing on Nov. 3. He has also appeared at two unscripted question-and-answer sessions on university campuses in recent weeks.

It will not be easy to fight the view that any Fed action, even a broad easing of monetary conditions, amounts to a bailout of the financial industry. About half of Americans are less confident in their central bank today than five years ago, according to a Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan survey published in November.

U.S. politicians, normally circumspect on matters related to interest rate policy, have not been shy about critiquing the Fed's bond purchases and the inflation risk they pose. Many Republicans want to rewrite the Fed's mandate to focus solely on inflation, dropping its aim to foster full employment.
"Once monetary policy becomes a political issue you have to try to appeal to a broader audience than Wall Street investors," said Maury Harris, chief U.S. economist at UBS.

"What's happened is that people treat it like it's another TARP," he added, referring to the Treasury Department's rescue fund for big banks. "It's viewed as, 'if the Fed is printing money they must be bailing out somebody.'"
U.S. economic growth, at just 2.5 percent in the third quarter, is still too sluggish to put a dent in the unemployment rate, which in November rose to 9.8 percent. Inflation remains low, giving officials comfort that they can ease monetary conditions without causing a surge in prices.

Communications have always been a tricky game for the Fed. Too little can leave financial markets in the dark, boosting uncertainty and volatility. Alan Greenspan, Bernanke's predecessor, tended more toward secrecy and became famous for his cryptic and sometimes unintelligible comments.