On Tuesday and Wednesday I watched CNBC and Fox Business News (FBN) cover the biggest financial crisis in the country's history and the appearance of Henry Paulson and Ben Bernanke before the Senate and Congressional Banking Committees. It was the Super Bowl of television business news coverage – like The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal's coverage of 9/11. CNBC won hands down over Fox Bimbo News.
Not that CNBC's coverage was flawless, it fumbled the ball at least once while I was watching, but overall what I saw and heard on CNBC was far more intelligent, more knowledgeable, and graphically more relevant than the coverage on FBN.
CNBC's anchors and reporters were far more knowledgeable about the complexities of the financial crisis than those on FBN. I got the distinct impression that, in general, CNBC chose its on-air people based on their knowledge and expertise and FBN chose its on-air people based on their looks and personality. No big surprise here. Although, there was at least one anchor (in the morning) on FBN who was both attractive and seemed to know what she was talking about, but a couple of the male guests and FNB reporters on her segment were clueless.
How do I know who is clueless and who isn't about this unbelievably complex situation? Because I usually know when I listen to people if they are smarter than I am (which is usually the case). If someone knows about as much as I do about a subject, then I figure he or she is not that smart, so I go somewhere else to learn what I don't know. So for two days I kept coming back to CNBC and leaving FBN.
CNBC fumbled the ball on Tuesday when chief economic reporter, Steve Liesman (unnecessarily accusative and obnoxious) got into a extended, nasty on-air fight with "Squawk on the Street" anchor Mark Haines (defensively outraged), which "Squawk on the Street" co-anchor Erin Burnett handled nicely and professionally – she came out if looking a lot better than either of the males, and I don't mean "looking" having to do with looks.
On Tuesday CBNC had a highly visible and readable graphic on a split screen when Paulson and Bernanke were testifying that showed second-by-second stock market movement (Dow Jones and other averages) and the US dollar value vs. other currencies. This graphic was cool because you could see what effect Paulson and Bernanke's testimony and the Senators' reactions had on the markets and on the dollar – smart. FBN had confusing bouillabaisse of graphics on the bottom third of the screen – dumb because it was hard to read and hard to make sense of. On the second day (Wednesday), FBN didn't learn much from CNBC's better coverage and graphics and didn't change its graphics approach. I suppose it didn't want to give CNBC the sincerest form of flattery – not in FOX's DNA.
Also, CNBC had a good, readable graphic on a ticker that was a summary of Paulson and Bernanke's testimony—smart and helpful.
What did we learn about the players in the hearings – Paulson, Bernanke, the senators, and congressmen on the Senate and House committees? We learned that Paulson, who played tackle on the Dartmouth football team, looked and talked like an offensive lineman – big, tough, pushy, and aggressive, barely masked by an outward deference to the committee members. Bernanke surprised me. We learned that as a former university professor (almost my favorite kind of person), Bernanke had the ability to explain complex issues and make them understandable. He was a quite, calm intelligent star. He was the cool, smart quarterback who had a big tough tackle blocking for him – a good combination.
The majority of the senators and congressmen performed as you would expect. Most of them weren't asking questions of Paulson and Bernanke (appointed by a Republican president); they were grandstanding to their constituencies and to the public. It was typically boring, embarrassing, and dumb browbeating. The two exceptions were the chairs of the committees: Senator Chris Dodd and Congressman Barney Frank (both Democrats). They got it and moved things along.
America is fortunate to have Dodd and Frank represent us, Paulson and Bernanke blocking and tackling for us, and CNBC informing us about the crisis. What about FBN? About as deep in knowledge and expertise and about as qualified to do the job as its favorite vice-presidential candidate.