OLD Media Moves

How to tell executives are serious

October 10, 2012

Posted by Liz Hester

Reporters spend a lot of time talking to people on background or off-the-record. It’s an important part of the job and a good way to make sure you’re getting the full story. Even if you can’t quote the head of XX division at XX bank about an issue, having his/her thoughts on a subject can be invaluable.

So, how can you tell executives mean serious business? They’re quoted by name prominently in a news article. Politico’s Ben White and Jonathan Allen wrote yesterday about how bank CEOs are gearing up to push Washington to reach a deal on the looming fiscal cliff.

From their piece:

For Wall Street, the aim is simple: Get a big budget deal that provides stability for investors by eliminating the threats of government shutdowns, credit-rating downgrades, debt ceiling disasters and wide fluctuations in spending and tax policy.

But to get there, some on Wall Street — who ordinarily would share the conservative aversion to higher taxes — believe the circumstances are so dire they are ready to pressure Republicans to abandon orthodoxy for a more important goal: to prove that Washington won’t hold the economy hostage to its own partisan dysfunction.

“Imagine what kind of stimulus it would be if politicians just reached some kind of long-term budget agreement to eliminate all this uncertainty?” Goldman Sachs chief Lloyd Blankfein told POLITICO in an interview. “It’s not that it’s easy to do. It will require some political sacrifice on both sides. But the solutions are so clearly within our means.”

Added Jamie Dimon, chief executive of JP Morgan Chase: “Either a President Obama or Romney will have to deal with this and reach some kind of agreement that will take this threat off the back of the economy both now and in the longer term.”

It’s unusual for some of the most well-known CEOs to come out so publicly on a political issue, a sign that Wall Street believes the business of Washington has bled into the business of America — dragging down the economy to the point where they need to weigh in personally.

So White and Allan got not one, but two big bank CEOs for their story, quite a rarity for a daily news piece. Sometimes you see two chiefs quoted in a magazine article, but it’s not a daily occurrence.

And Blankfein and Dimon’s words carry weight because they pick and choose the stories they’ll be quoted in carefully. Because they don’t speak on the record daily, you pay more attention to the story and get a peak into the Wall Street political agenda.

Since the dawn of time, reporters have been weighing “the ask.” What stories are important enough to warrant the CEOs voice? Many editors think anything they’re writing should have a CEO quote, but the reality is that your story will have to either dovetail with the CEOs agenda or be about something really bad.

In this case, Wall Street firms are using clout to try and force a deal. They’re floating the idea – via the media – that they’d pay higher taxes as a political cover for Republicans. That’s right, those big banks are actually agreeing to let some money go in return for the economic stability of the country.

If the combination of more tax money and lobbying by some of the masters of the universe, isn’t enough to convince Congress to reach a deal, I’m not sure what will.

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