Too many times to count, the business media have covered a deal supposedly in the works between two firms, presenting it in articles that don't name their sources. You might have thought we'd seen it all: unnamed sources that seem legitimate, unnamed sources that seem more likely to be imaginary, unnamed sources that are too far away from the action to be legitimately in the know.

The Wall Street Journal

takes the cake, though, with its latest big merger-in-the-works story, but it's not the sources that go unnamed. It's the potentially acquired firm.

Here's the headline, which seems a few short degrees away from an

Onion

spoof: "

Citigroup in Talks to Buy a Bank: Ties Between Board and Executives Are Strained After Wachovia Bid

.

So

Citigroup

(C) - Get Report

is in talks to buy a bank. What bank? Any bank? Not even the body of the article gives us a clue.

The sub-headline, interestingly enough, points out that relationships between the board and brass are strained after the

Wachovia

(WB) - Get Report

folly. Nowhere in the article, though, do we hear that maybe, just maybe, those executives are floating the fact than they are looking to acquire Bank X to make them appear busy and on the prowl.

Look: A deal with a legitimate bank could happen, for all I know, but considering the recent past and the highly peculiar absence of the potential acquisition's name, shouldn't the

Journal

at least be suspicious that something else might be going on?

Unfortunately, the

Journal

goes off in the opposite direction, with this blurb on the front page: "

Citigroup in Talks to Buy a Bank: Citigroup is in talks to buy a regional bank despite strained board-management ties after the failure to acquire Wachovia

."

"Despite"? Isn't there a possibility that this potential merger is the

result

of the strained relationships? That the board sees the brass as total losers, so the brass are pressed to prove the board wrong? In fact, isn't it possible that the brass are so pressed that they are leaking something so silly that they can't even name it?

Look at this lame explanation of why there is no name attached to the prey:

"Less than a month after walking away from Wachovia Corp., Citigroup Inc. is in discussions to acquire another U.S. bank, according to people familiar with the situation.The target's name couldn't be determined, but it is a regional bank that overlaps geographically with Citigroup's retail-banking unit, which has its highest concentration of branches in the Northeast, California and Texas. A deal could be reached later this month, the people said."

"Couldn't be determined," despite clues and a telephone that allows you to call banks that might qualify? Would that deny the talk outright? Or leave the door open? Don't inquiring minds need to know in order to take this article seriously?

The

Journal

makes the point that an acquisition would help ease the tension but never the point that a series of floated rumors would at least buy the brass time:

"The fallout from that deal has added to tensions between Citigroup executives and directors, according to people familiar with the matter. Some board members have felt they weren't sufficiently kept in the loop, while some executives groused that directors are trying to wield too much clout, people familiar with the matter say. A Citigroup spokeswoman declined to comment.

"Some insiders say an acquisition would pump up morale at Citigroup and ease the embarrassment of the Wachovia mess."

And what of the big, huge issue that the government might not want the billions it is handing Citigroup squandered on some face-saving acquisition that, like many acquisitions, probably won't work out so well in the long term? That major factor is relegated to last line of the article:"That makes it easier for Citigroup to pursue another U.S. bank, though some lawmakers have complained that federal infusions should be funneled into loans, not acquisitions."

Unnamed sources are sometimes a necessary evil. Unnamed companies are just plain kooky.

At the time of publication, Fuchs had no positions in any of the stocks mentioned in this column.

Marek Fuchs was a stockbroker for Shearson Lehman Brothers and a money manager before becoming a journalist who wrote The New York Times' "County Lines" column for six years. He also did back-up beat coverage of The New York Knicks for the paper's Sports section for two seasons and covered other professional and collegiate sports. He has contributed frequently to many of the Times' other sections, including National, Metro, Escapes, Style, Real Estate, Arts & Leisure, Travel, Money & Business, Circuits and the Op-Ed Page. For his "Business Press Maven? column on how business and finance are covered by the media, Fuchs was named best business journalist critic in the nation by the Talking Biz website at The University of North Carolina School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Fuchs is a frequent speaker on the business media, in venues ranging from National Public Radio to the annual conference of the Society of American Business Editors and Writers. Fuchs appreciates your feedback;

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