On Friday, I was heading home from a long week on the road. Around lunchtime, I land at O’Hare where I went through U.S. customs (easy!) and then switch planes for the last leg home.
On the rail shuttle between terminals, I had a few minutes. I scroll through Twitter to see what was going on, and BAM! The Tweeps are ablaze with excitement, about the Best. Television. Ever.
This pissing match began on Bloomberg on Thursday, with Trish Regan interviewing Carl Icahn one-on-one (video, article). The next day, it moved to CNBC, where Bill Ackman and Carl Icahn had gotten into an even bigger pissing match, live on the air. The reaction was breathless: “Greatest Moment In Financial TV History” Business Insider declared.” HuffPo declared it an “Epic CNBC Brawl.”
And it wasn’t just the Content Farms pushing SEO driven headlines. Even the Christian Science Monitor wrote about “Bickering billionaires go public.”
Reading through the commentary was strangely disconnected. People seemed genuinely excited about things that were rather mundane (Cat fight!) and meaningless (Icahn said “Bullshit” on the air!). The excitement, odd though it might have been, was palpable. I thought, I must be missing something not seeing it on the tube. So the next day, I watched the full exchange online. (video, transcript) Three people having a conversation on TV — two of the three by telephone.
I was, to say the least, underwhelmed.
I watched (or really listened to) a pair of wealthy men air their grievances to this rather petty, public, squabble, and I thought to myself: Why does this sound so familiar?
There was lots of drama. Two outsized personalities, with big bucks on the line. There was a back history between the two — wounded pride, lost friendships, poisoned working relations. There was nearly a decade of litigation, subsequent power struggles, accusations back and forth. Fortunes were made and lost and made again. Reputations sullied, egos punctured. The only thing missing was a season ending cliff hanger.
Then it dawned on me: This was an episode of Dallas, with a dollop of a modern reality TV thrown in for good measure.
Like Dallas, this made for compelling, dramatic television, and great infotainment. But this Soap Opera had nothing whatsoever to do with investing or trading.
Consider the universe of potential investors, and the myriad potential investments they can possibly make. A few investors in Ackman’s fund, a few more in Icahn’s fund, and however few people are long or short Herbalife. For 99.97% of the viewers, it was irrelelvant.
How was this any different than Judge Judy — only without the poor people ? Maybe Jerry Springer is the better comparison — it looked like someone (Ackman?) got sandbagged — only with CNBC’s Scott Wapner between two masters of the universe instead of Springer?
It was gossipy, catty, meaningless backstabbing machinations, prodded on by the anchor, to the delight of the attendees of at coliseum. Maybe some people think this is compelling television, but it was embarrassing financial journalism, Junk TV. What’s next, “SquawkBox, Live from the Jersey Shore?”
There is a reason why the televisions are off — not muted, but off — in our office. Perhaps we should throw the damn things out altogether.
Some people with nothing better to do with their time. Excuse me, if I take a pass . . .
Lose the News (June 16 2005)
The Price of Paying Attention (November 3rd, 2012)
Things I Don’t Care About (January 15th, 2013)