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Covering the Chaos on Wall Street

The media industry is still sorting through last week's Wall Street wreckage as the business collectively assesses the damage. The coming days will tell more about the fallout and what it could mean to everything from advertising dollars to the M&A marketplace.

Last week, all eyes were on business networks like CNBC and Fox Business Network; on the front lines were CNBC's Maria Bartiromo and FBN's Alexis Glick.

B&C Business Editor Robert Marich spoke with the anchors about how the media handled last week and their personal involvement in the financial meltdown.


Besides covering the news fairly, do you feel it's your job to try to be a calming influence on viewers?

I think it's important for me to remain steady, calm and not really show emotion because journalists should not add to the upset or euphoria. I do try to just state the facts, and not bring emotion or opinion to it. Certainly not opinion. But you don't want to do something that's not real either.

Would you say general TV news has done a good job covering the stock market turmoil?

It's hard to say “yes” on a day-to-day basis because on any given day, there can be some scary headlines. I think people need perspective, analysis and depth. I am not a fan of sound-bite situations.

We all have a big responsibility to make sure that we are providing the full picture. For example, we talk until we are blue in the face about how weak this economy is. But I think it's also very important to recognize the U.S. benefits from selling to China, India, Brazil and other booming economies around the world. That has provided a bit of a cushion for the U.S.

You landed some big interviews for CNBC during the week: Bank of America chief Kenneth Lewis and ex-AIG chief Hank Greenberg. Are the big names good at providing true insight?

I think so. When you are covering a story, I think it is valuable to get players who are actually on the front lines to tell you what they are actually seeing.

How active are you at booking your CNBC guests?

I have spent much of my time fostering relationships. That's one of the values that I bring to the table. When Bank of America acquired Merrill Lynch, I picked up the phone to call Ken Lewis [and put him on CNBC]. I called Hank Greenberg yesterday just to talk about AIG and the insurance business. And then I ended up booking him.

Today, I had an off-the-record meeting with one of the senior executives at a major firm on Wall Street. I was really busy with other things, but it was important to meet with him because when his company makes news, he'll do an interview with me. I take the time to talk to him and so he knows when he sits down with me, I've done my homework. That's how I've been able to develop a great Rolodex. And what he told me was extraordinary. [He said] “I was in a Fed meeting over the weekend, and I looked at some of these Lehman [Brothers] executives across the table and they were zombies, true zombies.” So he gave me real color.

What is your most memorable moment at CNBC?

My scariest moment was Sept. 11, 2001. I was at the New York Stock Exchange just down the block from where the towers collapsed. I watched the second plane go into the second building from a street corner.

I think one of the most interesting and fascinating and also scary periods is right now. I think we are seeing a complete change of the financial landscape of this country. There are lessons to be learned everywhere you look. Looking at these enormous companies with enormous balance sheets—a trillion-dollar balance sheet at AIG—teetering on the brink is a reminder that if you don't watch the store, it goes away.


How would you rate general TV news coverage of the turmoil?

I have been glued to the TV and read every newspaper I could get my hands on. If I had to grade the news community and business community, I'd give them an A. We are telling people what is happening and why it is impacting you and me.

Besides covering the news fairly, do you feel it's your job to try to be a calming influence on viewers?

Absolutely. You have to be very calm, well thought out and reasonable. If you feed into the panic of what is going on with these financial institutions, you are going to create more fear. We at all times have to be very calm and very level-headed on why this is happening to these financial corporations. The last thing people should do is panic.

How do you tell human stories from the perspective of working investment professionals?

I talked to Teddy Weisberg of Seaport Securities, who worked at the New York Stock Exchange for 40 years, and he told me that guys whom he worked with his entire career are now working at Home Depot. That's just a part of what we're experiencing.

The personal stories seem a good match with Fox Business's ambition to make business relevant to individuals, and not just the corporate world.

We've said our DNA stretches from Main Street to Wall Street. We're reporting the breaking news in detail, and the news about corporate mergers and acquisitions, but we're also going to report those personal stories. I worked at Morgan Stanley for the vast majority of my career. My 401K is at Morgan Stanley; I have stock options and stock. There are so many individual stories like that and it doesn't just have to be people from the New York. Auto factory workers in Michigan have been leaving their manufacturing jobs for years, and now they see that it's happening on Wall Street, too. That's such an important story to tell. If we don't tell the human story, we're not telling the entire story.

How did this impact you personally?

The hardest thing for me was being on the phone Sunday with people whom I worked with in this industry [at Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs]. They were paralyzed, absolutely paralyzed. This is a dismantling of an industry that had thrived for decades and a dismantling of people's lives. It's impacting everybody. It personally made me sad and sick. It is hard for me to wake up every day and digest what is happening.

Looking at financial news reporting on TV, do you worry that audiences tune out over time because they've pulled out of the stock market?

I worry less about what it means in the long term for ratings and more about what it means for all of us. The U.S. government is now in the insurance, the housing and the financial services businesses. Every taxpayer in this country now has a stake. The national dialogue about this economy is now the No. 1 issue in the election. What happened this week has changed the presidential election in a way that nobody would have predicted 10 days ago.