Home » Uncategorized » Are We Having Fun Yet?

Are We Having Fun Yet?

The day the Fox Business Channel debuted, the normally abrasive talk show host Bill O’Reilly advised anchors Neil Cavuto and …

The day the Fox Business Channel debuted, the normally abrasive talk show host Bill O’Reilly advised anchors Neil Cavuto and Alexis Smith to “have fun with it.” Since then, the news team has taken the advice in the spirit it was offered, serving up a frothy mix of happy-face banter and chummy interviews. This reflects Fox’s strategy to make its coverage more upbeat than the style of reporting found on rival network CNBC. Since CNBC has never been thought of as especially antibusiness, this double- whammy of institutionalized chirpiness could be bad news for short sellers every where. Maybe they should start their own network where the anchors frown and grimace all day. It would surely find a home on PBS.

Buried inside O’Reilly’s seemingly lighthearted, throwaway counsel is a revolutionary idea. Is there any good reason that business coverage can’t be chipper and festive even when things go a bit sour? Why does business news have to be so ominous and negative? Why does everyone in the press corps always have to be the Grinch?

Take coverage of the subprime mortgage mess. Does anyone actually know anyone who’s going to lose his house because interest rates kicked up? Certainly nobody in the business media; this gnashing-of-teeth is kneejerk compassion for a demographic group most journalists wouldn’t go near with a 10-ft. pole. So while the fallout may have some negative effects on the economy, it’s not as if any of this is going to affect journalists personally. The folks who are going to lose their houses are the folks who always lose their houses. That’s sad, but it’s not … catastrophic.

Moreover, isn’t it possible that this subprime thing has been blown completely out of proportion by mirthless journalists who love to show images of the fire erupting, but hate to show pictures of the fire being put out? And might this not also be true of their coverage of the weak dollar, the billowing trade deficit, the war in Iraq, the health care crisis, the disintegrating ice caps, and the collapse of the Social Security system.

Okay, okay, things may not look so great. But moping isn’t going to help. Just because something may be only the tip of the iceberg doesn’t mean that every boat is going to end up like the Titanic. And it isn’t just the press that consistently fails to have “fun” with business news. People in the business community are also guilty of getting down in the dumps. Home builders have been walking around for months as if they had the weight of the world on their shoulders. Retailers have been peevish because an unseasonably warm autumn has put a dent in outerwear sales. Private-equity funds are whining because Congress is investigating their preferential tax treatment. And nobody in Detroit has cracked a smile in years. To which Fox News says: Shape up, people! Bellyaching about things that cannot be controlled isn’t the American way. It’s time-consuming, it’s counterproductive, it’s the sort of thing they do in France.

Nobody is saying that disappointing earnings, or aborted IPOs, or catastrophic mergers, or senior management doing the perp walk are cause to break out the Veuve Clicquot. Nor is an investor expected to chuckle when he finds out that the $9 billion hedge fund he’d invested in has lost two-thirds of its assets almost overnight. But pouting won’t help. As Fox News understands, pouting leads back to the Jimmy Carter era of malaise, while remaining resolutely chipper, à la Ronald Reagan, is the attitude that made America great.

Some commentators have ridiculed Fox News for its up-with-people approach to business news coverage. Yet this criticism may be unfounded. The truth about this country is admirably expressed in the words of J.P. Morgan: “The man who is a bear on the future of the United States will go broke.” And as everyone who has ever seen a photograph of J.P. Morgan knows, Morgan was one fun guy.

About Joe Queenan

Joe Queenan is a regular contributor on business issues, corporate culture, and financial follies to Barron's and The Wall Street Journal.