Dennis Kneale: A Cautionary Tale for the Mainstream Media

“Never pick a fight with someone who buys ink by the gigabyte.”

-Joshua M Brown, September 2009

If you’re going to be on financial television, you’ve got to be one of two things:

1.  An attractive, friendly personality with good interviewing skills


2.  Someone who has a good understanding of the issues and subject matter

So what happens when an anchor possesses neither of these two traits?  What happens when he or she not only has a tenuous grip on economics and finance, but also displays a blatant disregard for hearing the opinions of those who do?

And finally, what happens when, instead of courting and cultivating the most important voices in financial commentary of the era, the anchor instead decides to use his nightly pulpit as a forum for making derogatory generalizations of said voices?

Here’s what happens:


Even in his show cancellation announcement on Twitter, the corny sense of humor that so irked the audience comes oozing through.  “Hasta La Vista, Baby“?  That is exactly what Michael Scott on The Office says when he is trying (too hard) to be funny on his way out of a room.  C’mon, man.

I am not writing this post to trash Dennis Kneale, as I feel bad that he lost his gig and I don’t like to kick anyone when they’re down.  My purpose here is to discuss the lessons that should be taken from this by Kneale and others in the mainstream media who need to adapt to the new dynamics or face endangerment.

Dennis Kneale, you see, made a major miscalculation when he decided that the momentary spike in viewership his 8pm snoozefest would get by picking on bloggers would be worth it.  It wasn’t.  It’s probably not just the mass derision coming from the business blogosphere that did his show in.  But the utter destruction of his credibility couldn’t have helped, and will probably follow him for quite some time in the future.

By coming out broadly against bloggers without having the slightest idea of what most of us do, he was probably voicing what many of his colleagues actually think but are too cautious to say themselves.  His over-generalized comments about financial bloggers all being anonymous cowards, spouting off and saying nasty things without knowing what they’re talking about made him a laughingstock to the millions of investors and professionals around the world who now get more of their news and perspective from bloggers than from almost any other source.

I can count on one hand the amount of bearish, rigorous arguments that have been prominently featured anywhere in the mainstream media over the last 10 years.  In the blogosphere, however, bulls and bears are given equal opportunity to express ourselves, and one does not have to be a “stock character” to be heard; you can be bearish for a time and then become bullish without worrying about fitting into a certain box so that you’ll be invited to debate from a particular viewpoint on a regular basis.

Dennis Kneale may be a good guy in real life, but watching him pontificate day after day on CNBC, you would never know it.  His persistent habit of making economic predictions and market-timing calls with absolutely no invitation or reason to do so in his role as “personality” was always absurd and as he would have to acknowledge in hindsight, extremely embarrassing.  Kneale had never run money for anyone professionally nor does he have any experience in analysis so far as we know, so why he felt the need to dispense advice, I’ll never understand.  Erin Burnett wasn’t telling people to stay in the market at Dow 13,000, 12,000, 11,000 etc.  Darren Rovell wasn’t carrying on about “the naysayers” as employment and house prices were dropping off a cliff.  They were doing their jobs, asking smart, incisive questions of their guests, allowing them to answer without interruption or editorial and keeping the program moving along.

I like CNBC and I also like Fox Business and Bloomberg Television.  Like all other media outlets, they both have things they do well and things that they don’t.  These are networks run by human beings after all, and sometimes they try new things that don’t work.  That’s cool, we get it.

But the Dennis Kneale experiment went on longer than it ever should have.  He has neither of the two prerequisite traits listed at the top of this post.  He needs to either become a better interviewer without shouting his own opinion over those of his guests or take more time to read and research his subject matter.

Had the man taken more than a cursory glance at the content and erudition present on sites like Calculated Risk, The Big Picture and Abnormal Returns, he wouldn’t have been so foolish as to lump all bloggers in with the one or two he had a problem with.  By running with that Blog You segment he felt was so riveting with the snarky grin and ham-handed monologues, he planted the seeds of his own irrelevance.

Oh, and here’s the most delicious bit of irony…if Dennis Kneale’s remaining screen time during Power Lunch or his contributions to Fortune magazine aren’t sufficient enough to satiate his need to be heard, then don’t be surprised to see him become a blogger himself!  It may be his best shot at a comeback!

Sorry about the show Dennis, hopefully if and when you make your comeback, you will have learned not to denigrate what you don’t understand.

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