Monday, March 16, 2009

March 16: CNBC's Exploding Truck

By Sylvia Gurinsky

News watchers may remember a time when NBC News had egg on its face, in 1992.

With newsmagazines as the TV trend du jour at the time, NBC's "Dateline" aired a report that questioned the safety of General Motors trucks. What NBC didn't tell the public was that they'd strapped incendiary devices to the backs of trucks to try to create an explosive effect. GM sued, NBC apologized, and correspondent Michelle Gillen, who came from South Florida television with a reputation for stellar investigative reporting and should have known better, eventually lost her network career (She is at Miami's WFOR-Channel 4 today.).

Today, it's financial channel CNBC that's the company's problem child.

Sound and fury by CNBC correspondents (and Comedy Central's Jon Stewart) aside, the question needs to be asked: What, exactly, is CNBC's role supposed to be?

Is CNBC supposed to cover business, providing sound reporting? Or is it supposed to be an advocate, a business cheerleader?

Is CNBC supposed to go by the standards and practices of NBC News (which were revised after what came to be known as the "Dateline fiasco")?

People are hungry for facts - without hype. The understanding here is that CNBC has not provided them before and during this economic crisis, or when its reporters have provided them, they've been literally shouted out by commentators more interested in making noise and being buddy-buddy with Wall Street.

In other words, the economic crisis is CNBC's exploding truck story, because the network didn't cast a critical enough eye on Wall Street or Washington.

Mark Hoffman is the president of CNBC. He's a journalist, so he knows something about standards and practices.

Hoffman needs to go on the air - at CNBC, on NBC - and on the Web and let readers and viewers know exactly what those standards are for CNBC. And as the parent network did 17 years ago with the truck, Hoffman needs to give a "mea culpa" for CNBC's failings in covering the economic meltdown.

This time, the consequences for CNBC's abdication of its journalistic duty are even more dire than "Dateline's" were.

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