CNBC’s Big Story

Yesterday the cable network provided a promising case study of the perils of reporting business news live.

At 10:41 a.m. yesterday Lear Corp., an auto parts maker out of Southfield, Michigan, halted trading of its shares with “news pending.” A Lear spokesman, the Detroit News reported Thursday, “declined to state the nature of the pending news, nor when it would be announced.”

That left CNBC reporter Bob Pisani in the lurch — and provided us with a promising case study of the perils of reporting business news live.

The excitement began with a “CNBC ALERT” at 11:16, as Pisani, reporting from the New York Stock Exchange, noted that the trading halt was important because on Monday “Carl Icahn, or affiliates controlled by Icahn, made a bid for Lear, $36 a share. The stock was halted at $40. So the Street seems to be expecting that either the bid’s going to be increased, or there’s going to be competing offers for Lear. Now we don’t know what the news is, but it’s going to probably [be] one of those two things — either a deal with Icahn, or competing offer, somehow, from people.” Pisani optimistically added, “We’ll be knowing in just a few minutes, I think.”

By 1:05, we still weren’t knowing. “We have been waiting for an hour and a half for news from Lear here,” Pisani reported. “It was halted news pending.” Pointing out that Icahn already owned 18 percent of Lear’s stock, Pisani then declared, “If there is a deal announced with Icahn or anybody else, the bulls on the Street are going to argue that this is the trough for auto parts and for autos in general.”

At 2:12 Pisani was back … but we still weren’t knowing: “I’m waiting for a comment from them. They were halted for news pending three hours ago. … The Street’s anticipating either a sweetened offer or somebody else coming out of somewhere to make an offer.” Sensing the awkwardness, anchor Erin Burnett added, “Thanks so much, Bob Pisani. Waiting for Icahn, waiting for Godot, all the same thing.”

By 3:29 Pisani too sounded more lighthearted — and a touch exasperated. “I’m still waiting guys. Listen, we all know the story here,” Pisani said, then repeated his storyline of a sweetened Icahn offer or another bid. “Is that what’s going to happen now? We’re waiting. … Guys, the market closes in a half an hour. I’m still waiting. Hello, Lear, anybody there?”

At 4:05, a whopping five hours after Lear’s teasing trading halt, Pisani gave his final “update”: “We’ve heard nothing from them so far today. We’ve closed, and Maria, stock never reopened and no news, back to you.”

The story Pisani was peddling yesterday turned out all wrong. Icahn did not improve his offer, and nobody else has yet come forward. Lear Corp. announced this morning that it has agreed to accept Icahn’s $36-a-share bid for the company.

All in a day’s work.

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Edward B. Colby was a writer at CJR Daily.