Does the business media do a better job for you, the savvy investor, when there is a definite event and they must speculate on potential impact or when there is no event, just an attempt made at impact? There has been an interesting test of this question in the past day.The answer is that they pretty much screw everything up. So the Maven advises, as always, that when you take in what the best and brightest of the business media produces, keep your critical-thinking cap fastened tight. For the sake of practice, let's put these two developments beside each other, just for sport: Event One: Madison Square Garden, owned by Cablevision ( CVC), lost a high-profile and exceedingly sordid sexual harassment lawsuit yesterday. If winning a championship is public relations gold, this was public relations gruel. The revelations ranged between petty and putrid, and the business media got busy deciphering whether public perception or the $11.6 million in damages that will have to be paid might carry a future impact on the cable behemoth. Event Two: Meanwhile over at Countrywide ( CFC), the mortgage behemoth that has been falling in public perception due to the revelation of sordid loans, layoffs and some public presentations that ranged between petty and putrid, made a big hire of a public relations firm specializing in crisis management.
In terms of Cablevision, too much of the business media spent too much time giving investors a firm grasp of the obvious by telling them that the $11 million is a drop in the bucket for the company. Or they slouched into their familiar story line about who is up and who is down by saying that both Madison Square Garden Chairman Jim Dolan and Knicks coach and president of basketball operations Isiah Thomas were still standing. CNBC's
sports business reporter trafficked in a bit of conventional thought, which might just be true, that the only thing that matters, in the long run, is how many games the Knicks win. Cablevision's hometown paper, Newsday, went easy as pie on the firm in an article called "Will MSG verdict have impact on Cablevision?" Of course not, was the resounding answer. That article most prominently featured thought from an analyst who served as near apologist. He pointed out that the legal case was not SEC-related, true enough, but then he said that the impact would be minor "unless over time it diminishes Dolan's image." Well, uh, whatever you think about how the case should have been resolved from a legal standpoint, it is hard to see how this won't tarnish Dolan's already tarnished image. The analyst is even allowed to add that when Dolan and his minions decided to go to trial, they already calculated in the effect it would have on their images, which has already been reflected in the stock.
This is probably giving far too much credit to a group without much history of long-term reflection and successful strategizing. As for the most central factor, whether there will be an impact on the Dolan family's $36.25 buyout offer, scheduled for vote later this month, the article says no. Well, it actually says the only possibility would be post-buyout and even then: No! Newsday says that, post-buyout, if Cablevision, facing a similar suit against their Rangers franchise, were to lose and decide to sell and the bevy of suits impacted the price, then it could have an impact. But that'd be long after Cablevision is private plus they won't sell, so it won't have an impact. Got it? Our own
TheStreet.com took a stab at a counteractive take that I wanted to believe, but it was too much of a reach. TheStreet said that, though the suit will do long-term damage to the company's credibility, it would actually increase the number of voters opting for the buyout, as shareholders, skeeved by the details, will want the company off their hands "sooner than later." While calling the timing of the verdict "sensitive," coming so close to the vote, The Wall Street Journal recycles some carping about the price of the deal, but does not give clear guidance on whether they think the suit will help, harm or play absolutely no role in the vote.
All in all, efforts when it came to Cablevision ranged between airing the obvious, going to great lengths to say everything was OK, making a valiant grab at an unforeseen consequence and planting both feet firmly in the air about what impact this might have in the only contest that matters: that buyout vote. At least no one is talking about foreclosing on Madison Square Garden, which is more than can be said for the homes of subprime borrowers, which brings us to Countrywide. The beleaguered
home loan giant did something that few, as I can see it, but The Wall Street Journal covered with a lot of words: It hired a well-known public relations firm that specializes in crisis management. This is not a real event, but because the firm is attempting to have such an impact, it should get this sort of coverage. Normally, unfortunately, such coverage is seen in only brief items in financial newspapers. Or trade journals. And though the consequence of this move might be great in terms of coverage, you won't hear much about it again. Just do yourself a favor. As you start reading articles about how Countrywide helped many buy homes and how those suffering foreclosure were not pulled by wild horses into their mortgages, remember that while some of these claims might very well be true, they are the product of Burson-Marteller flacks whispering story lines into the ears of business journalists, while offering them access to officials. It's a non-event, usually unmentioned, that has impact.