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The Five Dumbest Things on Wall Street This Week

4. DoubleClick Your Money Back

In corporate America, there's nothing like a little hardship to evoke a lot of hard cash -- for people in the executive suite.

Two weeks ago, for example, the folks at Merck (MRK) took time out from their Vioxx-induced pain to implement what the company called a "Change in Control Separation Benefits Plan." That way, 230 top executives -- at a company with 63,000 employees in all -- would be well-compensated if they were to be let go in the event the ailing Merck gets acquired.

Thank goodness! We were awfully worried about them.

This week, it was DoubleClick's (DCLK) turn. The advertising services firm -- which spent much of the year disappointing analysts with quarterly results or announcing it had retained Lazard Freres "to explore strategic options" -- said Monday that it had implemented retention agreements for its top five officers.

Should they hang around for the next five months, most of them will get a $150,000 reward for their troubles -- in addition, of course, to their regular salary. Should they manage to drag themselves into the office for another nine months, they'll earn another $300,000. Should anyone get canned before then, his retention bonus will pay off in full.

So once again, the golden parachute is going to employees who have had the greatest opportunity already to construct their own safety net. Isn't that great?

Of course, we're sure that someone will argue that you have to be pragmatic about this. (DoubleClick itself declined to comment.) You have to assume, the argument goes, that these execs are self-interested and won't hang around DoubleClick unless the company makes it worth their while. And if these key executives leave, the whole value of the enterprise will suffer. So it's in DoubleClick shareholders' best interest to dangle these rewards in front of them -- as unfair as the arrangement might look.

Our response? If these are the executives who led DoubleClick to this moment in its corporate life, perhaps the company would be better off without them. We bet that more than a few DoubleClick investors would be interested in testing that theory.

5. Signoff of the Times

After nine years of trying to catch up with CNBC, Time Warner's CNNfn went off the air Wednesday.

But while the folks on the financial news channel tried to be all cheerylike as the end approached, we can't exactly describe CNNfn's shutdown as death with dignity.

See, one would think that if you're a financial news channel, you would make some sort of effort to structure your day -- even your last day -- around the opening and the closing of the financial markets.

After all, the kickoff of trading at 9:30 a.m. Eastern time and the closing bell at 4 p.m. marks the cycle that defines the financial journalist's day -- something akin to the morning and evening milking that define the life of a dairy farmer.

So how did CNNfn acknowledge the markets' inexorable cycle Wednesday?

Good Afternoon, America
CNNfn calls it a day

Why, it ignored it. The channel signed off at 2 p.m. Eastern time. Why? We're not sure -- a spokeswoman for CNNfn (well, for this week, at least) said only that the timing of the shutdown was due to "a number of factors."

You know, when we used to imagine broadcast journalists sticking it out in the face of adversity, we would remember Edward R. Murrow manning his microphone during the Germans' bombing of London.

But now all we can think of is a bunch of CNNfn staffers saying, "Oh, what's the point of hanging around 'til 4? If we're going to go out and drown our sorrows, why do we have to wait two hours more?"

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