Media Circus: Why I love CNBC

Boring unknown men with squeaky voices experts making things up, anchors who just met five minutes ago. This channel rocks!

By Joe Lavin
Published August 11, 1997 7:00PM (EDT)

"the NASDAQ composite is off slightly from its earlier highs of the session, now up just five and a quarter." She whispers seductively in my ear. "The Dow, meanwhile, is still surging off the Fed's announcement this morning that it would not raise interest rates." She tells me this over and over again throughout the day, as our love grows from just an ember into a solid, passionate flame.

She is Terry Keenan, one of the ever-rotating anchors at the cable business channel CNBC, and I am not ashamed to reveal that I am in love with her. There is no one else I would rather have tell me about the Dow, the Fed, and the S&P than my Terry.

Until recently, I didn't even know who she was. CNBC was just one of those channels I flipped past on my way from Comedy Central to ESPN. But while helping my father move his stock brokerage business into a home office, I have been subjected to more and more of this channel. At first, I hated it -- the constant jabbering, the endless numbers drove me insane. But now, suddenly, I'm addicted to it.

And it's not just because of Terry. There's something exhilarating about watching all those numbers go by. I don't even know what they mean, but there they are -- going up, going down, going up, going down.

And there's always this wonderful feeling of chaos. Sure, it's bullshit, but it's a refreshing type of bullshit. CNBC is the opposite of all other television news. Everywhere else, there's scripted boredom. The same people are on at the same time every day. But on CNBC, it seems that anyone can be at the anchor desk. Sometimes, it's Bill and Terry. Sometimes, it's Terry and Sue. Sometimes, it's Sue and Felicia. Or Felicia and Ron. Or Ron and Joe. Or Joe and Bill. You just never know. It's as if they grab whoever in the studio is free and just throw them on the air.

And the chaos permeates everything they do. Recently, when a very ruffled Joe came on, he was forced to ask Terry for some prices. It took him over a minute. "Um, let's see, how about the closing price on Intel? Do you have that?" Where else would you see that? On any other channel, Joe would have made something up and finessed over it, but on CNBC they almost take pride in not knowing everything. The message seems to be, "Holy shit! Will you just look at all that information? Look at Joe there. He's so busy he's not even wearing a suit coat."

Not only do they need to keep up with all the information, they also must analyze. We are, after all, in the era of instant analysis. Each fluctuation in the markets must be analyzed. That analysis in turn leads to more market fluctuations which lead to more instant analysis which leads to more market fluctuations. It's a beautiful, unending cycle.

When they tell me why the market is doing what it's doing, I am sure they are guessing, but it's still so engrossing.

"Well, I see that the market has dropped 170 points in the five minutes we've been talking. Why do you think that is?" they ask experts.

"Well, I've been busy talking to you. How the hell would I know?" I always hope they'll say that, but they never do. They always mention something about interest rates or talk about Alan Greenspan.

"Earlier this morning, Alan Greenspan stubbed his toe getting out of the shower. His irritable mood all morning has caused worldwide markets to plummet. Bill?"

"Actually, Terry, I'm Sue. Bill went to get a sandwich. I'm now your partner."


Aside from lusting after Terry, my favorite part of the business day is the guests. I love the guests. Often, they are interviewed from some busy trading floor while all sorts of stressed-out people dash around them. Occasionally, for a second, I'll wonder how they have the time to be on television when there's obviously so much work to do, but then I get wrapped up in the excitement and forget all about that.

Nowhere else on television do you see such wonderfully uncharismatic guests. The other day, a boring expert with an annoying, squeaky voice came on to discuss the state of the market. Think about it. When was the last time you ever saw a boring unknown man with a squeaky voice interviewed on television? No other network would have let him near a camera, but CNBC didn't seem to care. I made sure to pay extra attention to his advice. I figured that if they let a boring man with a squeaky voice on television, he must know something.

By just looking at the Dow, you can also predict which experts will appear. When the market surges, the happy people show up. "Well, Terry, I don't really think there's any end in sight. Dow 10,000 is just around the corner." And then on the days the market goes down, all the mopey people appear. "Well, Terry, this is clearly the beginning of a very overdue correction. I'd sell everything and start burying your assets in the ground."

There isn't an ounce of accountability, either. There seems to be a tacit agreement that if the market goes up, they won't make fun of the bears. If the market goes down, they won't make fun of the bulls. And so the experts can say whatever is on their minds. It creates an atmosphere of pure, unmitigated speculation. It's as if all the finances of the world have been reduced to the same level as the conversations around your office water cooler. Boring financial data are suddenly transformed into gossip, and everyone loves gossip.

After all this, I still haven't learned much about the market, but I have learned one thing. Buy General Electric. It owns CNBC, and no matter if the markets shoot up or collapse into a depression, CNBC will still be attracting viewers and making money. After all, there's nothing else on television quite like it.

Joe Lavin

Joe Lavin is a freelance writer who lives in Cambridge, Mass.


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