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It's anyone's wild guess what is going to happen to Bristol-Myers Squibb ( BMY). I just wish the business media had said the same at the beginning of the week. Alas, they did not.

In fact, little has happened on God's green earth that has made me want to beat the tuna fish out of the business media more than the way they let an obscure, unsourced report of a Bristol-Myers takeover drive coverage of the company.

In review: I ended Monday's column with a warning. A hitherto unknown-to-me (and I, as you know, know all) French newsletter reported that Sanofi-Aventis ( SNY) and Bristol-Myers Squibb had signed a premerger deal. The combined entity was going to be the biggest drug company in the world, and it was going to be a friendly merger. Awww. The only problem with this newsletter report was the issue of sources. Specifically: There were none.

As you know, an unsourced rumor about a takeover and a quarter won't get an investor on the bus. They'll end up losing that 25 cents and more.

That some newsletter somewhere specializes in thin reporting is neither a great surprise nor a business-world tragedy -- but it is the way the business media operate, so uncritical in thought, so in need of copy and so willing to pawn responsibility for a mistake on whoever originally said something ("I was just quoting them," is the dog-ate-the-homework excuse).

The real problem, as I pointed out, came when Reuters ran with the story.

Reuters mentioned in the second sentence of its piece that the information was unsourced. But to my flawless way of thinking, that should be less a qualifier than a disqualifier. Cagey Reuters even gave itself a little cover with use of the passive voice, saying the premerger deal was "thought to have been signed last week."

The Business Press Maven added that for all he knew (which was nothing), a merger agreement could have been signed last week but that Reuters was being irresponsible in reporting it, even if at what it believed to be a safe distance. I know how these things play out for investors: An unsourced mention may be first reported as such, but with the news cycle turning so quickly and making news outlets fear being second more than being wrong, the rumor is soon reported as basic fact.

Sure enough, by Monday afternoon we had a Business Week story titled: " Is Sanofi-Aventis After Bristol-Myers?" Check out the misleading subheadline: "Word is the two major pharmaceuticals may soon merge and become the world's largest drugmaker ahead of some best-selling drugs coming off patent."

Did you get that? "Word is"?

The word is loose talk, a leap of faith, assurances from little-known newsletter with a list of sources that looks like the crew of a ghost ship.

Well, at least Business Week mentions the lack of sources in the lead, right? After all, in the morning, Reuters was at least doing that.

Well, would you rain sulfuric acid on The Business Press Maven's head.

By the afternoon, the weather had changed. Business Week made no mention of the lack of sources in its lead.

The last sentence of the first paragraph of the Business Week story makes some acknowledgement: "But a recent report in French financial newsletter La Lettre de l'Expansion claims the two companies have already signed a pre-merger agreement."

See that cleverness? It is their "claim." Business Week is off the hook. But with that, BW put investors who weren't fortunate enough to pick up on the lack of sources in the Reuters report on a meat hook.

By Tuesday, the Financial Times had issued a slightly more established story. Sources were anonymous, but these no-names said that Barely-Merged -- uh, Bristol-Myers -- had retained several different investment banks in the past week in the hope of spurring a bidding war. The FT quoted a French banker who said that Sanofi had been "caught cold" by the leaked report of its plans to bid for Bristol and had yet to retain any banks.

Again, this is rank speculation on my part, but to my mind this means, assuming no bankers had been hired by Sanofi, that no premerger agreement had been signed, unless it was an agreement to hold vague talks, which should not elicit the sort of excitable, trusting headlines that have investors rushing headlong into the stock.

Good Scribes, Good

Now let The Business Press Maven go from attack to praise mode. For the first half of last year, the business media, as loyal readers know , were at their worst and most inaccurate when discussing the intentions of the Federal Reserve. Back then, the business media kept saying against all reason that the Fed was due to cut rates again.

Even when the media's reporting got better later in the year, there was always a certain confusion between what the Fed was truly intending and what the media were saying to be safe -- in other words, mostly for rhetorical purposes, to cover their bases.

Witness how well the lead of a different Reuters report ( this one on the recent Fed talk) gets it: "Faced with a strengthening economy and scant signs of runaway prices, the Federal Reserve appeared set to keep interest rates steady on Wednesday while keeping up a verbal guard against potential inflation."

Investors, if we could read more of this nuanced thought and less of the regurgitation of unsourced rumors, we wouldn't have to threaten to beat the tuna fish out of those minnows in the business media.
At the time of publication, Fuchs had no positions in any of the stocks mentioned in this column.

A journalist with a background on Wall Street, Marek Fuchs has written the County Lines column for The New York Times for the past five years. He also contributes regular breaking news and feature stories to many of the paper's other sections, including Metro, National and Sports. Fuchs was the editor-in-chief of Fertilemind.net, a financial Web site twice named "Best of the Web" by Forbes Magazine. He was also a stockbroker with Shearson Lehman Brothers in Manhattan and a money manager. He is currently writing a chapter for a book coming out in early 2007 on a really embarrassing subject. He lives in a loud house with three children. Fuchs appreciates your feedback; click here to send him an email.