COMMENTS: Financial Newsers Help NBC Dissect Financial Failures

NBC's broadcast newscast made full use of its sibling financial news cable channel to cover the crises of the financial capitalist system. Lehman Brothers, the 158-year-old investment bank, went bankrupt. Merrill Lynch, the nation's largest brokerage house, was taken over. AIG, the globe's largest insurance company, needs an immediate $75bn in capital to stay in business. The bear market accelerated on Wall Street as the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell by 504 points to close at 10917. All three newscasts led with Wall Street's woes, the Story of the Day. NBC sent anchor Brian Williams across the Hudson River to CNBC's headquarters for the most detailed coverage of this complex of financial stories (12 min v ABC 6, CBS 6), accounting for fully 62% of its newshole.

CNBC's Carl Quintanilla kicked off the coverage in conventional fashion: "Not in generations has Wall Street absorbed the number of body blows it took today." His description of the carnage was matched by ABC's Betsy Stark and CBS' Anthony Mason. Mason announced that "two pillars of the Street tumbled over the weekend" while Stark saw "the bankruptcy of one major Wall Street investment bank, the shotgun wedding of another," referring to Bank of America's fire-sale acquisition of Merrill.

Then NBC anchor Williams walked through the crisis with CNBC's panel of experts. Economist Steve Liesman warned that it is hard to overstate the extent of the problem: "The financial system is holding but you can say it is severely strained." Of the nation's five major investment banks, only two are still in business; FannieMae and FreddieMac were nationalized just last week. Business reporter David Faber worried about AIG, "a huge player in the global derivatives market." Its bankruptcy would be an outcome "many people are very, very concerned about given it is so interconnected in the global financial system." Anchor Sue Herera was encouraged about the Bank of America combination with Merrill Lynch. She saw a "financial superpower" with "arguably the best financial advisors around--and some 20,000 of them." Anchor Erin Burnett offered both reassurances and warnings for the investor on Main Street: brokerage accounts and bank accounts are protected but "nobody is going to protect you against a drop in the stock market."

ABC and CBS followed up on their Wall Street reporting with the Main Street angle too. Dan Harris on ABC sought the silver lining: "When the stock market is down there are lots of buying opportunities for the brave." Jeff Glor, of CBS' Early Show consulted financial advisor Jill Schlesinger, who also told us to think of a bear market as "a sale: a 20% discount from where the market was." Glor claimed that there is "a growing consensus on Wall Street that this past weekend may have been the worst of it," without offering a single soundbite to represent that so-called consensus. The Pollyanna Glor is trying to catch a falling knife, as the saying goes.


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