If Adam, Eve, Job, Ruth, Esther -- or any other subject or chronicler of the Old Testament -- were around today, they'd tell you that it's no easy chore covering God. You sort of just sit there and let Him speak. Apparently, covering Warren Buffett is no easier, judging by the reports from Berkshire Hathaway's ( BRK.A) annual meeting in Omaha over the weekend. Buffett was there, of course, along with 35,000 people -- a record crowd even for Warren. A host of media folk -- like good disciples -- scribbled down every syllable his Lordship said. Some even dared to ask a question or two, but overall, the rules of the Old Testament remained in place: You don't talk back to the almighty one. This was no time to genuflect, however. Buffett, and Berkshire Hathaway, had an awful year in 2008. The company's Class A shares lost 32% of their value, and while Berkshire Hathaway reported $4.99 billion in profit, that tidy sum was a 62% drop from the year before. Even in Buffett's annual letter to shareholders, he said himself, "during 2008, I did some dumb things in investments." Nonetheless, like their Old Testament brethren, our modern-day reporters appeared to be in awe of just standing in the presence of greatness, no matter how much it has diminished in the past year. Take my friend and former colleague Andrew Ross Sorkin, writer deluxe for The New York Times. Sorkin was one of several journalists who travelled to Omaha to write a blog, in his case for "DealBook," a nifty business roundup that is prominently featured in the Times.
While Sorkin blogged for most of the afternoon Saturday, he mostly delivered a sense of being star struck. In his wrap up blog post, Sorkin's second sentence was how much fun it was being so close to His Greatness. Sorkin did spit out the occasional headline and quote from On High, and if anything, he impressed Staci Kramer, who covered the event for paidContent.org. Kramer noted Sorkin's presence on stage as part of her own coverage. The New York Times and paidContent.org were by no means the only media outlets that believed being in close proximity to His Fabulousness was a newsworthy event. Counted among the "I Was a There, Too" disciples were the headliners at CNBC. The business network ran an entire package of The Great Warren, paying particular attention to every diatribe he uttered -- including this tidbit on the newspaper industry. But why stop there, especially on a Saturday, when the markets are closed and we're in the business of covering financial news? The brass at CNBC are apparently of the opinion that The Great Warren is so important that not only was the annual meeting worth covering, but traveling there was paramount as well. Call it a trip to Mecca travelogue, and unfortunately, the network brass decided to waste Michelle Caruso-Cabrera on this laborious task. "An Omaha Journal," such as it was, included such dribble as Caruso-Cabrera's family shopping at a jewelry store and Caruso-Cabrera leaving the arena -- her mom was inpatient -- to buy a dripless-pourer and a mix-n-stir from The Pampered Chef, a Buffett company.
The Wall Street Journal also came in with a package of articles, although the paper's brass clearly believed that a deity is best covered with quantity instead of quality. The paper's coverage lacked its famous scrutiny. The reporters tended to buy into Buffett's analysis that his insurance holdings would continue to prosper and didn't question his wisdom on loading up his portfolio with banks. In fairness, it's not easy brightening up Greatness, and most of the reporters who covered the meeting didn't even try. And why bother; when God speaks, isn't that enough? Colin Barr, a former editor at TheStreet.com and now a senior writer at Fortune.com, harnessed his usually tart tongue and delivered a straight news account. But that's more than you would have found at Motley Fool, which ran a cheat sheet of topics that should be covered prior to the meeting -- or Seeking Alpha, which ticked off headlines in no particular order, -- or Forbes uninspired coverage. Some of the most reputable coverage came from overseas, notably from The Guardian in the United Kingdom. The paper not only summed up what Buffett said, and the questions asked of him, it noted the somber tone in which it was presented and how that differed from past meetings. While a few of the American reporters also noted the diminished enthusiasm at the shareholder meeting, it was often as an afterthought to one of the topics that Buffett wanted to discuss. Still, if Buffett ever needs reassurance of his importance -- about as likely as God needing to read his press clippings -- he could find it by visiting the Web site of The Atlantic. Not a publication known for its financial savvy, The Atlantic's coverage of The Great Warren was a refreshing surprise. Megan McArdle's blog entries not only covered Buffett's comments and the pandering, they did so with color and wit.
His Greatness would also be impressed at taking the entire front page of The Huffington Post, although it was a day late, with a complete wrap-up of the major topics he covered. Buffett's front-page presence was short lived, however (he was bumped by a story on Iraq). What will be interesting, is the coverage of Buffett this coming week. It is true that The Great Warren has vast influence on investing and the market, and we will no doubt see that in upcoming discussions about finance and business. The chroniclers of the Old Testament soon realized that when God spoke, the topics He chose and the opinions He delivered would soon set the debate going forward. Buffett did that Saturday with his optimistic view on housing, his support and criticism of the government, his views on insurance and the banking industry. Some of that influence was apparent Sunday in coverage of Buffett's press conference. Buffett has made his share of investment blunders in the past year, but it is evident from Berkshire Hathaway's shareholders meeting that his audience wants to hear a message of hope -- that brighter days are ahead of us. Forget that his stock lost 32% in one year, in large part due to his own error in judgment. On some weekends, Americans want positive headlines. We want to read about how Mine That Bird, a 50-to-1 long shot, won the Kentucky Derby. And we want to read that The Great Warren still has faith in the U.S. stock market, and that Berkshire Hathaway is a great stock buy. Doug Kass, my colleague on RealMoney Silver, is long Berkshire Hathaway. After reading the weekend's coverage, I think it's safe to assume he's not alone.