Fri - March 5, 2004

Where Are All of the Grown-Ups?

I happened to be in our Fitness Center, where a television was tuned to CNBC, when the Martha Stewart verdict was announced. While a camera focused on the front door of the court building, commentators attempted to fill otherwise dead air by engaging in all sorts of speculation and conjecture, my favorite being:

During deliberations, the jury only asked questions about Peter Bacanovic's case. That suggests that Stewart will be found not guilty.

Or perhaps it suggested that the jury was pretty sure Stewart is guilty.

Occasionally, the picture would shift from the courthouse door to a graph of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia's stock price for the day. Then, the verdict was announced. People came running out the door, flashing signals, waiving scarves, and holding up signs. The camera turned to CNBC's correspondent, who stood in front of two easels, one each for Stewart and Bacanovic, urgently asking passersby for the verdict on each count and checking the appropriate boxes on the easels. But he kept getting inaccurate information. His easels ended up looking like John Madden's telestrator after a particularly exciting play. Couldn't CNBC have waited thirty seconds to post a definitive graphic, saving what little dignity this poor man once possessed?

For half an hour after that (and counting when I went back to my office), CNBC moved quickly from one commentator to another. All of this time spent reporting that the two defendants were found guilty of eight of the nine charges against them could have been used to ask analytical questions that would place this event in some sort of meaningful context: How often are securities charges filed? Do experts believe that this accurately reflects the amount of securities crime being committed? How often are the defendants of those charges found guilty? Why were these charges filed against her and not others? Why was she found guilty? Instead, they asked:

Who read the verdict, the jury foreman or the judge?
Did Martha meet Peter's eyes when the verdicts were read?