Financial reporters hit hard

Aftermath: The magnitude of loss of friends, co-workers and sources is just beginning to become clear.

Terrorism Strikes America

September 13, 2001|By David Folkenflik | David Folkenflik,SUN TELEVISION WRITER

At CNBC, the reporters are part of a small but influential fraternity that includes stock traders, corporate executives and market analysts.

On the air, over the past few days, the financial news network's staff has been tracking the Nikkei, the dollar and the cost of gasoline. They've been speculating about when U.S. markets would open again. And they've broadcast interviews with industry and government heavyweights about the effects of the multiple terrorist strikes.

Off the air, like everyone else in America, these reporters are trying to learn who can be accounted for. And for them, this is not a clinical exercise. A disproportionate number of the New York fatalities are likely to be these journalists' sources - and their friends.

"I've lost three or four acquaintances already - regulars who have been on our program," said anchor Ron Insana, a familiar face for Wall Street watchers. "That's what we can tell at the moment - and there's probably a lot more."

Cantor Fitzgerald, a prominent financial analysis firm that maintained offices high on the north tower of the World Trade Center, could confirm the location of only three of the 850 people who were believed to be inside the building, Insana said.

"They took the plane, basically," he said of the firm. One of his frequent guest analysts is among those presumed dead.

Yet the cable network ploughs on, suppressing the emotion as best they can.

"I've been doing this for about 20 years," said Bill Griffeth, anchor of a midday program on CNBC. "I've developed a muscle that whenever something does occur, I think about its implications for the markets or the economy."

The network has relied on a "seat-of-the-pants" approach, Griffeth said, improvising coverage by picking what to carry of the day's developments. Along with market analysis, for example, the network yesterday carried footage of FBI agents swarming a Boston hotel in a raid linked to the investigation of the hijackings.

"It's an odd mixture, but you know what? That's the story," said Griffeth, a 10-year veteran of the network. "This has been a hit at the financial nerve center of America, if not the world."

Nonetheless, he acknowledges feeling numb when the second hijacked plane struck the World Trade Center on Tuesday. The station's offices in Fort Lee, N.J., offer a perfect view of the Manhattan skyline, and his horrified colleagues watched, pressed against their windows.

"You know, you become friends with these people, who become our regulars," said Maria Bartiromo, a CNBC anchor who Tuesday fled her office on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, only to be caught in a blanket of ash and debris. "It's going to be devastating when we fully understand the number of people who are still missing."

Others linked to news outlets weren't so lucky. A technical worker for WPIX-TV in New York, a sister company of The Sun, is among the missing, according to John Madigan, head of parent company Tribune Co. At WCBS-TV in New York, two transmission engineers were in their offices at the 110th floor of One World Trade Center, one of the twin towers.

Journalists are trained to detach their emotions, hopes and fears and set them aside. Worst arguments Insana recalls about the appropriateness of such coverage followed the 1986 explosion of the Challenger Space Shuttle.

"Immediately upon the explosion of the shuttle, [aerospace design firm] Morton-Thoikol's shares plummeted," said Insana, who was then with FNN. "I don't mean later that day - I mean minutes. To understand the way Wall Street works. You don't wait to ask questions. You act."

As a result, Insana and his colleagues said yesterday, coverage helps to set the foundation for the return of the markets themselves - even if it airs the debate over how quickly they should open. The shock waves that have a very human effect also have a real financial effect near and far, they said.

"I believe that this was an very deliberate attempt to dislocate the financial community as part of the attack," Insana said. "I don't believe you can divorce that from the event itself, even as I don't think you can relate that to the terror that these people have endured."

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