While it's true cable television is where every good, nuanced argument goes to die, there was something different about a barb-filled gabfest on CNBC's Closing Bell this weekend.
In truly uncomfortable footage, Salon writer Alex Pareene raised the hackles of three financial reporters by demanding accountability from JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon. Dimon's bank is about to get slammed with what could be a record-setting fine, which Reuters' Felix Salmon later pointed out is notable considering they've already paid out $3.68 billion in settlements this year.
Dimon's company is negotiating with federal prosecutors on a fine for their role in the mortgage-backed securities crisis, obstruction of regulatory probes and for allegedly knowing that Bernie Madoff was defrauding his investors in a massive Ponzi scheme—among other matters.
But on CNBC, instead of talking about the record-setting fine, Pareene was met with eye-rolling and dismissive banter from Maria Bartiromo and crew.
In the opening volley, Bartiromo asks, "Legal problems aside, JP Morgan remains one of the best, if not the best performing major bank in the world today. You believe the leader of that bank should step down?"
Question: Why start with "Legal problems aside"?
To be clear: JP Morgan has some extremely serious legal problems that federal prosecutors think may be worth up to $11 billion in fines. Yet Bartiromo wants to set those aside in favor of profit numbers?
Pareene's response points out the number she should be fixating on when it comes to Dimon.
I think that any time you’re looking at the greatest fine in the history of Wall Street regulation, it’s really worth asking should this guy stay in his job. In any other industry—I can’t think of another industry. If you managed a restaurant, and it got the biggest health department fine in the history of restaurants, no one would say “Yeah, but the restaurant’s making a lot of money. There’s only a little bit of poison in the food.”
Pareene's response here gives the average viewer pause. Though everyone in the segment was a reporter, only one reporter was raking muck.
Which translates beyond this segment: There's a huge discrepancy here about Dimon's treatment as a source and a subject when it comes to the financial media world and other reporters.
Like many financial reporters, Bartiromo seems to lionize Dimon for his numerical successes while glossing over the finer points of possible ethical shortcomings.
Whoever you're inclined to believe or back, exchanges like this illuminate the vast differences in attitudes and approaches among diverse reporters—think of that the next time someone lazily slams "media" as one big entity.
Just one more reason to watch every media outlet with healthy skepticism and a vigorous curiosity.