The New York Times’s Joe Nocera is funny and perceptive in his column over the weekend in which he reviews last week’s debut of Fox Business News. His best line was probably his first:
It was Thursday around 4:30, and I couldn’t take it anymore.
It’s clear that FBN is too new to judge, as Nocera reminds readers, but I give him credit for sifting through the first week’s shaky offerings and herein recommend him for combat pay. Providing a glimpse at what FBN is aiming for, Nocera interviews FBN head Roger Ailes, who articulates a variation on the red-state/blue-state approach. The FBN-red side would be the pro-capitalist, pro-America one.
Ailes is being modest when he calls himself “a pretty good TV producer.” The way he steered News Corp.’s Fox News to run down CNN must scare the bejesus out of General Electric Co.’s CNBC.
Ailes’s approach is to attack not rivals’ reporting, which takes talent, but their motives, which doesn’t. But while the strategy has worked before, and certainly stinks, it’s not going to work on the business side.
Parse Ailes’s words here as he mocks CNBC, saying it is changing its approach in response to the coming of FBN:
When I spoke to him, he was no less inflammatory. ‘They’ve decided recently that America is not such a terrible place and capitalism isn’t so bad,’ another reaction, he seemed to be saying, to the prospect of some new pro-America competition.
Does it even make sense to paint CNBC as Pacifica Radio? No, it does not.
And here’s some more from Ailes:
‘They used to get really excited if a C.E.O. was going to jail and they got depressed if a company announced a profit. They are offended by rich people unless it’s them.’ He paused before delivering the punch line. ‘That’s because they all went to journalism school.’
Nocera gets it just right:
Now, anyone who has spent more than five minutes watching CNBC knows these allegations are laughable; it would be hard to imagine a channel more pro profit than CNBC. But Mr. Ailes needs a way to differentiate his new network, and this was one of his tried-and-true tacks: accuse the other side of a lack of patriotism.
And here Ailes says FBN believes that executives pray in churches and daven in schuls, despite what is reported by those wiccans at CNBC, Forbes and Business Week.
‘We don’t view capitalism, corporations or profits as the enemy,’ he said. ‘If the guys at Enron did bad, they paid for it,’ he added. ‘But there are 9,000 other companies whose executives go to church or synagogue, and make contributions, and want America to be a great country. And it is not treason to not treat them like bad guys.’ Et cetera.
“It’s not treason to not treat them like bad guys.” I guess there is a kind of genius in there. By the time you figure out what he just said—basically, nothing, but it sounds like somebody’s a traitor—everyone is onto something else.
And, yes, I heard that journalism school crack. I would respond but we traitors up here are too ecstatic over the bottom falling out the financial markets to take offense. Soy milk for everybody! My treat.
Laughs aside, yes, it is odious to the use word “traitor”—even in a convoluted double negative—in the context of almost any debate but certainly one about business-news reporting. And yes, it is moronic to assert that business reporters harbor antiprofit sentiment. But, no, the stategy won’t work because business-media viewers aren’t as stupid as Ailes thinks they are.
Still, the business media, and not just CNBC, should pay attention while FBN tries to find its way. These kinds of sleazy assertions, apparently, are part of a marketing strategy, and we can expect more from Ailes & Co.
The business press needn’t worry about it; just be ready for it.
Also good over the past few days:
Glenn Simpson’s Saturday piece in The Wall Street Journal reminds readers what a snake pit the contractor situation in Iraqi has become. So, we’re excited about that one, too.
Krugman (he who needs no first name) delivers a good explanation today of how the new Treasury-backed superfund may be masking problems, rather than solving them.
I also like this Louise Story story in the Times on trying to measure Web site audience size, something I suspect every web-based media outlet wrestles with. We certainly do.
We are trying to suppress our hatred of profit long enough to turn one.