Thursday, March 31, 2011

Sokol, Buffett & Becky Quick

By now you've probably read, heard or seen more about David Sokol's conflict of interest investment in Lubrizol, ahead of his recommending it to Warren Buffett for Berkshire Hathaway to buy, then you wanted to. It's been all over CNBC throughout the day.

That written, I won't add my own view about the propriety of Sokol's actions. He spent about ten minutes on CNBC this morning attempting to defend his actions as above question. The network had panels of various people appear on almost every program to debate Sokol's actions and defense.

But to me, there's a single glaring question you should ask, in light of Buffett's lavish, frequent use of CNBC when it suits him:

Where is Becky Quick's in-person investigative interview with the so-called Oracle of Omaha on this one?

Sure, Quick accompanies Buffett on those photo- and video-op tours of China, India, and Korea. She's with him before every annual meeting, and several more times per year. All good press for Buffett- on his terms.

What about now? Because everyone agrees that Buffett sent Sokol out to do damage control on his own. Many is the pundit who contends that Buffett is worried that this incident might finally pierce his folksy, aw shucks veil of privacy and land him in front of an SEC inquiry.

I've written many posts suggesting that Buffett's recent performance hasn't been nearly as good in recent years as it was a decade ago. Buffett gets a pass on borderline unethical or illegal takeover moves, such as Burlington Northern, that would raise eyebrows were others to attempt to use the same tactics.

Don't you wonder why, with her tight connection to Buffett, CNBC's producers didn't have Becky Quick on the line to Buffett this morning, or explaining why not?

Well, okay, that's a rhetorical question. The reason why not is that Warren obviously didn't want to be spotlighted on the Sokol-Lubrizol front-running scandal. And if Becky Quick had pushed on this, it likely would have been the last time her call would be taken or returned by Buffett.

So much for hard-hitting, investigative business news on CNBC, huh? Better to preserve marquee relationships, avoid asking embarrassing questions, and leave Buffett alone when viewers would have liked to know what he knew, what he said, etc.

That's why CNBC is a business entertainment network, not a business news network.

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