Sunday, May 01, 2011

Cornpone Buffett Evades CNBC's Questions

If you wanted more proof than I offered in this post that Warren Buffett is one shrewd public relations bastard, and not an open, forthcoming CEO, you need have looked no further than CNBC last Friday.

Becky Quick caught Buffett outside of a traditional Thursday evening bridge game with Fortune writer Carol Loomis. Quick tried to get Buffett to comment on the Berkshire board's published report on the Sokol-Buffett-Lubrizol scandal prior to his Saturday shareholder meeting remarks.

In true cornpone tradition, Buffett guffawed and aw-shucks-ed his way past Quick's questions and microphone. Meaning, in effect, that he totally manipulates CNBC and Quick for his own purposes. He grants them interviews and close-up face time when it suits his needs, then shuts them down when it is inconvenient.

Plus, he uses CNBC to air himself with his own faux-folksy demeanor, the better to use it every time he's on camera.

It's clearly an artifice he's created so that his every corporate move is seen not as that of a calculated, clever CEO, but your that of your wizened old good-natured Grandpa.

Yep, that's Warren. So deft that even the usually-savvy Wall Street Journal columnist Holman Jenkins, Jr., gave him a pass in this weekend's edition.

I nearly vomited from nausea as I listened to Buffett's chuckle-punctuated remarks to Quick as he brushed her off. There was nothing about the subject that would invite humor, so you knew that Buffett thought he ought to be in character because he was, well, on camera.

Imagine the same words and actions from another CEO, not laughing. It would be quite cold, off-putting and look like what it is- damage control.

But Buffett has so defanged Quick and CNBC that they happily play clips of him guffawing his way out of the awkward moment that night. And Quick, once a well-regard reporter for the Journal, simply smiles and refrains from any comments, .either on or off camera, which might jeopardize her prized access to Buffett- but always and only on his terms.


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