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HOWARD ROSENBERG

Tv's Crash On Wall Street

October 21, 1987|HOWARD ROSENBERG

Diary of a TV viewer being totally confused while watching coverage of the stock market crisis. . . .

Monday, Oct . 19: The correction of the market's downward leverage on the foreign deficit bounced the cash and equivalent of the gross national product's market meltdown of a bull market while portfolio insurance against the budget deficit's liquidity prices collapsed the calling of margin calls.

Tuesday, Oct . 20: The bear market collided with the super market's downward spiral of the S&P futures market's foreign deficit of program trading accentuating the widening of the existing trend of volatility so that some of the fat was shaken out and we can move forward again.

Whew! For a minute there, I was really worried.

Seriously, the stock market debacle is an extremely challenging story for TV to report. After all, you can't see the market falling the way you can that burning Iranian oil installation in the Persian Gulf. But there has to be a way to report the story that's understandable to ordinary minds like yours truly.

Now, I'm no genius. For me, balancing a checkbook is a wild adventure into the bizarre unknown. I estimate my intelligence as average, however, and assume that when I don't understand something on TV, I'm not alone.

So it's humbling admission time: Much of the stock crash coverage is miles above my head.

Yes, monitor the crisis--from Wall Street to Tokyo--and try to determine its cause and ultimate impact. There's been good TV work in that area (CNN's regular reports on Tuesday's zig-zagging early market were indispensable).

But also tell the story in a way that makes the market comprehensible.

TV gave it the old try on Black Monday. CBS, NBC and Fox Broadcasting aired half-hour specials late that night, and the financial crisis was the focus of ABC's "Nightline" and CNN's "Larry King Live," "Crossfire" and an extended "Moneyline." And then, too, came Tuesday's array of morning programs.

The last several days have brought graphs, charts and the usual talking heads--experts who spoke slowly and succinctly.

But . . . what were they saying?

We have been hearing a sort of fiscalese--a language understandable to the financial community and hard-core investors, but perhaps not to many of us who view the stock market as mystifying.

I heard up and down and panic and fear . I know what they mean. But beyond that, it was often tough going.

A TV report Tuesday from the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, for example: "Program trading has stopped." Now, you may know the meaning of program trading, but I didn't, nor did three of four friends I asked.

I've also yet to hear a definition of a margin call or a host of other market terms. And will someone please, just once, define gross national product ?

Can you figure it? The same TV industry that mostly believes viewers are too dumb to accept sophisticated entertainment programs considers them smart enough to understand language that economists, stock brokers and Wall Streeters speak.

The market meltdown needs a language meltdown.

Now a proposal:

Immediately--not one or two months from now, but now, while the subject's hot--someone in TV land should air a special explaining in lay terms the stock market and its pertinence to the vast multitudes who wouldn't know an investment portfolio from Pee-wee Herman.

The program should include a glossary of terms and a tour of the New York Stock Exchange. We've seen the pictures from recent days--an enormous, crowded, paper-cluttered, chaotic room with people frenetically pushing back and forth like shoppers at a bargain-basement sale. Who are they? What do they do? Where are they going? Why do some of them wear blue jackets? What are trading posts and what do they trade?

With better education, there would be less blind apprehension and outright fear.

ABC economics reporter Stephen Aug mentioned the psychological impact of the market crash, noting that people now may tend to "feel poorer" even if they have no investments.

After a report Tuesday morning, meanwhile, ABC anchorman Peter Jennings asked Aug for a "final comment" on the market's initially encouraging upsurge that morning.

Aug seemed surprised by the question. "A final comment?" he replied. "Uh . . . if it wants to go up, why stop it?"

Finally, a plain-speaking man you could understand.

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