OLD Media Moves

The CNBC brouhaha and business journalism ethics

March 22, 2009

Dan Gifford writes on the Big Hollywood cite about what he sees as the main problem of business journalism on television in the wake of the recent controversy surrounding CNBC.

Gifford writes, “Nobody can be right enough often enough to satisfy a herd of TV viewers chasing quick profits and nobody is gonna hold any Wall Street feet to the fire in any real way that matters. Too negative? Read on — and pay special attention to the interwoven tapestry of relationships.

“Before joining Lou Dobbs’ ‘CNN Moneyline’ (now ‘Lou Dobbs Tonight’) in New York, I auditioned for a spot at CNBC in 1989 on the anchor desk with Sue Herera, who is still there. My agent, the late great Sherlee Barish, said that all went well except that my reputation for exposing financial criminality bothered the brass and that they were concerned about having me in their midst.

“I may ask questions that would alienate the Wall Street biggies and business leaders they hoped to curry favor with. Worse, they were concerned I may find an R. Foster Winans at CNBC, Barish told me. Winans was The Wall Street Journal ‘Heard on the Street’ columnist who leaked market moving stories to his stock trading buddies and inside information peddlers seemed to be everywhere.

“In case you weren’t there or don’t remember the 80s paranoia, Wall Street had crashed, Godzilla market moving ‘geniuses’ like Ivan Boesky with a ‘talent’ for picking takeover targets that spiked in price had been unmasked as insider price riggers while lending institutions were failing because of looters like Charles ‘Cheating’ Keating which, in turn, caused many businesses to close.

“Anyway, one particular story I had done, Barish said, in the midst of all that really bothered the CNBC boys: My expose on ‘MacNeil/Lehrer News Hour’ that a great many of the businesses going under at the time were not the result of bad loans made to bad people who should not have gotten them (where have we heard that before?), but the result of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation forcing lenders to classify performing loans as delinquent and call them early. FSLIC Chairman M. Danny Wall demanded MacNeil/Lehrer take that fact out of the story I had done before it aired, but my editor, Gregg Ramshaw, said ‘no’ as did his superiors, a principled stand for which I am still grateful. I was not grateful for the federal bullying that followed, but that’s a story for another time.”

Read more here.

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