By "show," I don't mean the stock price decline, which is too tragic and predictable to have any entertainment value. Boy makes big car: Boy makes bad loans. Boy lives sadly ever after.
No, The Business Press Maven has been watching a much happier show -- one written by and starring GM executives themselves. It's called the
GM FastLane Blog
Here's the deal -- and it's a good one for the savvy investor who wants to gauge how tethered GM executives have been to their unfolding reality and how truthful they are when left entirely to their own devices. On their blog, GM executives up to and including CEO Rick Wagoner write their own little articles or simply look into the camera and speak directly to the American public.
No nettlesome business media interfere, asking follow-ups or framing the blog posts against a larger reality, and the investing public certainly learns something as a result. As woefully flawed as the media can be, taking them out of the equation to speak directly to the public is sometimes a case of be-careful-what-you-wish-for.
You can't, for starters, blame them for taking what you said out of context.
On Sept. 22, just over two weeks before GM hit that 943-year low, CEO Wagoner starred as himself in a video. Wearing a khaki suit (past Labor Day, tsk-tsk) and perhaps a little too sun-kissed for a guy who should be working triple-time saving his company, Wagoner, in the words of GM flaks who created the site, would "kick off our `The Case for GM' video series."
He was soon talking about how the company's future is "quite bright."
The most recent installment in "The Case for GM" series stars Vice Chairman Bob Lutz in a monologue on "the high quality of today's GM cars and trucks" in which, as the callout advertises, he "issues a unique challenge to compare our vehicles to our competitors."
The videos seem to have been filmed in the same office, though Lutz is considerably less tan.
It's not all stars of stage and screen on the company's blog. There are also articles, and some of them even touch upon the concept that GM faces a challenge or two.
John Buttermore, GM Powertrain vice president of global manufacturing, led off his editorial two weeks before GM hit its low by acknowledging difficulties, though he harnessed them to macro weakness, which ignores GM's fault in its own demise. "This is a challenging time," Buttermore began, "both for the auto industry and the U.S. economy overall."
After touching on a semblance of the reality that would be put in even bolder relief in a matter of days, Buttermore declared: "But as you may have noticed, GM is in the midst of reinventing the automobile."
Look, you know that The Business Press Maven spends the better part of his life criticizing the business media. They deserve it, so it's something of an honor to burn every bridge possible in the field with my relentless criticism.
But the only thing worse than the business media is the lack of it.
I can go on and on about GM's comments on the eve of its 943-year low. Rather than honk and snort at each and every one, it's important for you, the savvy investor, to realize how cautious you need to be when faced with corporate comments unencumbered by questions and dissent, not placed in some degree of perspective by someone not on the payroll.
At a time when politicians from both sides of the aisle can run for the highest office in the land -- an office elected by people and held in the public trust -- and barely take questions from members of the media they do not vet and count as supporters -- well, we all know what happens.
Arrogance is left unchecked. Minds are allowed to grow slack and lazy. And in the end, no one wins.
Always beware of the media. But be doubly aware when they are nowhere to be found.
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;
to send him an email.