Sometimes the easiest way to win an argument is to beat your opponent into submission. At other times, you can come at your opponent so fiercely and relentlessly that he's forced to hide from further subjugation.
Such seems to be the example set by the media that came after CNBC in recent months. Maybe you blame Jim Cramer and his colleagues for not putting up a stronger fight when the scrutiny, attention and criticism was coming on strong. Whether you believe that the heat was too hot to handle, or that Cramer's mishandling of the situation only doused the flames even more, CNBC now resides in a nasty place pegged as an alleged accomplice to money mayhem.
This reality became particularly hard for me to digest this week at a panel discussion focused on to what extent the financial media was responsible for the current economic crisis. This event was scheduled and organized months in advance of Wednesday night's discussion, well before this particular controversy steamed up. Yet, faced with recent uproar, it came as no surprise that CNBC correspondent, Charlie Gasparino, opted to remove himself from the panel discussing the issue.
Serving on the panel were members of the Wall Street Journal and Fox Business Network along with a freelance journalist who worked for TheStreet.com. Gasparino would have likely agreed with the other panelists as they made the case that the financial media had done their job in exposing corruption, overspending and greed on Wall Street, Washington and beyond.
I'm not going to make the case that CNBC was more responsible than others on this matter. Over the course of the discussion, the panelists had ample opportunity to share convincing (and some documented) evidence proving that they were reporting about abuses of power and signs of greed dating back several years. It was at those times when Gasparino's absence became even more noticeable and, quite frankly, strange. CNBC, at the center of this storm, had no spokesperson there to defend the network when questions about responsibility arose.
Some might take this absence - of physical presence and of clarifying voice - as a sign that Gasparino and other CNBC employees have thus accepted their fault in this area; they simply have no defense to offer. Those people would argue that CNBC was hiding behind either collective ignorance or phony unawareness, pandering instead to CEOs seeking publicity and good treatment as if it were an entitlement. Critics have argued that this type of blase attitude only perpetuated the problem and downplays any sense of activism and community representation on the shoulders of the financial media.
Maybe because I'm still not ready to accept that CNBC made a policy of turning the other cheek, I remain troubled. I'm less concerned with hearing Gasparino's opinions about CNBC's role in the whole situation as I am worried about the virulent environment that has surfaced. This event was originally scheduled to be a discourse between thoughtful pundits and professionals. But the recent focus on the role of the financial media changed that. Gasparino must have concluded that he would have been up against a firing squad of angry individuals had he chosen to attend.
And indeed he may have been. It could have quickly escalated from a debate into a confrontation or event an attempt at an intervention. But it seems to me, and I'm sure that the event's organizers would agree, that the conversation still warrants having. I don't doubt that prior to making his decision to cancel, Gasparino considered how it would look. Yet he still opted to do so. It's shameful, really, that someone would deem being a sitting panelist as him agreeing to be a sitting duck. Having a target on your back from the minute you're introduced can make for an uncomfortable and vexatious position, especially on a stage.
A missing fourth panelist, who seemed to have been chased away, overshadowed the three panelists for much of the evening. You couldn't help but wonder what insights Gasparino would have brought to these issues, and, yes, how the audience would have reacted to him. Regardless of where you stand on CNBC's role in this whole situation, it's hard to imagine that empty chairs, silent correspondents and canceled reservations are part of the road to recovery, financial or otherwise. Or, sadly, maybe we prefer it this way.