In mid-October, the morning after the Dow Industrial Average topped the 10,000 mark for the first time in ages, a young, energetic TV reporter for the Fox Business Network (FBN) named Sandra Smith briefed Don Imus and his viewers on the state of the markets. She does this a couple times an hour, every morning. Stock index futures were up, she said. Ditto various earning reports. Things were banging.
“In about 15 minutes, we’ve got the big earnings coming out from Goldman Sachs,” said Ms. Smith. “Some say that they’re gonna knock the ball off the cover, and it’s going to be a blow-away earnings report.”
Mr. Imus corrected Ms. Smith’s language. The proper idiom, he noted, firmly and paternally, was to knock the cover off the ball. As for the excitement over Goldman Sachs’ record earnings, Mr. Imus sounded skeptical. He said he’d been reading Matt Taibbi, author of “Inside the Great American Bubble Machine,” the piece in Rolling Stone that famously groin-kicked Goldman Sachs. And, besides, unemployment remained disgustingly high. “The only guys who are making any money are the wise guys on Wall Street, right?” said Mr. Imus.
The Fox Business Network turned two years old this month. And there is arguably no better way to get a distilled vision of where the channel has been, and where it might be headed, than by watching the daily back-and-forth banter between Ms. Smith and Mr. Imus.
On the one hand there is Ms. Smith, who joined the network for its launch in October 2007. She is sunny, blond, blue-eyed, manicured, glossy, optimistic, self-assured, radiant.
A money honey wed to a curmudgeonly dad: Such are the necessities of TV financial journalism in 2009.
On the other, there is Mr. Imus, who joined the network earlier this month. He is 69 years old, dark, dour, stormy, self-destructive, gruff, weathered.
It’s an arranged marriage between a vivacious market enthusiast and a grouchy, market skeptic, between a money honey and a curmudgeonly dad. They make an odd couple. But such a union is perfectly in keeping with the uncertain hot-and-cold, giddy-and-despairing state of the U.S. economy.
WHEN MS. SMITH started at FBN two years ago, she was part of a crowded class of up-and-coming go-getters (Alexis Glick, Jenna Lee, Cody Willard, Nicole Petallides, Connell McShane and on and on) who were all of a type. This crowd, predominantly female, was full of fresh-faced, forward-looking optimism, and seemingly engineered by FBN chief Roger Ailes to ride effortlessly from one market high to the next and look damn good doing it. None of which was surprising, given Mr. Ailes’ professional history. In 1991, he helped NBC Universal launch its financial news network, CNBC. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Ailes took a smart, attractive, young producer named Maria Bartiromo and put her in front of the camera. It was the early ’90s. The economy was coming out of a deep freeze. And as the markets heated up, Ms. Bartiromo shone, quickly turning into the brightest star in financial journalism.
As Mr. Ailes prepared to launch FBN on behalf of Rupert Murdoch in 2007, the markets were going wild again. A few weeks after the Dow closed at its all-time high of 14,164, the network celebrated its debut with a roaring party at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The hormonal buzz of rapidly expanding net worth hung in the air. Celebrities mingled, here and there, while the next generation of money honeys—all surely inspired by Ms. Bartiromo—strutted among them. Cody Willard, a handsome, 35-year-old hipster ex–hedge fund manager, who had just been made co-anchor of the network’s 5 p.m. hour, gazed at the Temple of Dendur and spoke of FBN’s ambition. “We’re trying to take over the world,” he said.