Wednesday, October 28, 2009

CNBC's Celebrity "Business Journalism"

This morning, as I was reading and writing before breakfast, I listened, as usual, to the audio of CNBC, to which my television was tuned.

Around 8am, Mario Gabelli joined the program, along with Pimco's Bill Gross. The two traded views on various topics as economist David Malpass made an appearance to discuss his recent Journal article on the effects of currency depreciation on trade flows versus investment flows.

The adoration with which the CNBC co-anchors treated Gabelli was sort of stomach-turning.

Remember back in 2007, when Gabelli was being investigated by the SEC for defrauding the government in a frequency spectrum auction? As I recall, Gabelli recruited the wife of some colleague to front for him and take advantage of some minority set-aside benefits in the auction process. There was apparently some evidence that Gabelli funded the whole effort, and the woman was just a figurehead.

News reports which I found by Googling this subject only note that Gabelli's firm settled with the SEC to vacate the charges.

Here's what occurred to me this morning as I listened to Gabelli hold forth on various topics.

In the two years since Gabelli's fraud incident, why hasn't CNBC's on-air staff ever had a proper interview with him over those charges? Why haven't they grilled him on exactly what really happened?

Here's a leading business channel deliberately ducking the opportunity to behave like a real news organization. They have a guy on as guest-host who was caught up in the sort of business behavior that sickens everyone.

Yet they never have laid a glove on his even once. Instead, Gabelli gets the celebrity treatment on every visit.

This sort of incident, more than most, cements my view that CNBC is all about business entertainment, and not at all about reporting.

Sure, they announce news and breaking development. But because essentially all of their 'in depth' reporting consists of recruiting industry figures to debate and argue points, the channel is entirely dependent upon those guests.

They have no real analytical staff of their own to serve up in-depth reporting. So they have to make nice to all of their guests, or else they have nothing but headlines to read.

You have to wonder why Murdoch's gang, with Roger Ailes at the helm, can't figure out how to combine the now-unused Wall Street Journal investigative reporting capabilities with Fox Business News and blow CNBC off the air.

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