With the financial world in disarray, the economy has been at the forefront of national consciousness in recent weeks. Neil Cavuto, anchor and managing editor of Fox News Channel, as well as senior vice president and managing editor of Fox Business Network, has seen his share of market ups and downs in a career of financial reporting spanning more than 20 years, which included a stint at CNBC. Cavuto — his Your World With Neil Cavuto on Fox News is the most-watched show in cable business news, while Cavuto is the 6 p.m. mainstay at FBN — recently spoke to Multichannel News online news editor Mike Reynolds. He looked back at the fledgling service's rookie year, and also offered a little perspective and advice about the troubled times. An edited transcript follows:
MCN: How is this crisis different than in 1987, when the stock market took most of the hit?
Neil Cavuto: Well, the concern is that this goes way beyond stocks. In '87, the feeling was that it was a big deal for Wall Street, what were the reverberations for Main Street? We didn't know.
Here, not only are there more players in the stock market, but it extends, or people fear it extends, to the security and safety of their bank accounts, their insurance policies, their annuities, the kind of stuff that used to be considered rock-hard safe. I think that changes the dynamics of this debate.
MCN: How successful has FBN been in meeting its goal of going beyond the Wall Street set and reaching out to Main Street overall and during the recent weeks of craziness?
NC: I judge it anecdotally. I don't have hard numbers to back it up, what I'm saying, but just anecdotally from e-mail, phone calls, passers by, people who refer to a guest either I had on, or FBN had on, that they were curious about.
When I was at the [Democratic and Republican] conventions, people in Denver and St. Paul when they saw FBN — we had it playing at both conventions — they were intrigued by it and liked it. And that has always been my argument, that if there's a level playing field and just comparison to comparison, people like what they see. We're not only a credible, but a very innovative news source for folks who want to get a different point of view on what's going on.
MCN: With FBN's first-year anniversary approaching, are you pleased with the network's progress in terms of guests, breaking news, analysis?
NC: Yeah. I always want to tinker. I always want to see what we could do better, what story could we have covered more thoroughly. That's something in everybody's DNA here; we're never really satisfied. But I think what we are clearly seeing is people finding us and liking us. And let's face it: We're a tough find on a lot of digital-cable systems. We're way up there on the channel spectrum. So when you're going to the effort to hunt and peck to find us, clearly they're not satisfied with what's been available to them.
MCN: Is there any sense that your stories are going into a vacuum?
NC: I've heard this argument before. We utilize the full Fox Business talent roster, even on the shows that I do on Fox News Channel. And when we do have a direct comparison with their households, our business product is superior. I always remind people that if you like what you've seen here, you should see what you're getting on Fox Business Network.
And that does draw eyeballs to the network because the highest-rated business coverage has been on Fox News Channel that has utilized Fox Business people and reminded viewers of the unique source that Fox Business is.
MCN: So, like the news space with Fox News, CNN and MSNBC, there's definitely room for FBN and CNBC?
NC: I remember analysts saying only one would survive. Here we are more than, what, a dozen years later and we still have the three rolling along. So, I'm not saying it's either us or them, I'm saying that there's enormous interest in this stuff and certainly there is an alternative to the traditional way these stories are treated.
MCN: What's the media's responsibility in terms of reporting the news, versus feeding the frenzy that we've experienced over the last month in particular?
NC: Well I don't think you do anyone good screaming 'fire!' in a crowded theater or telling people don't buy stocks for the next five years.
MCN: Someone (Jim Cramer on the Oct. 6 Today show) on another network did that …
NC: I heard. (Laughs.) But I think when you do that you guarantee you're not going to have any viewers for five years, which might not be a bad thing in that case.
But you also kind of send a message that panic is OK: Go ahead, slash your wrists, it's absolutely fine. I think that's a huge disservice. All I know is having covered crashes and crashettes alike and bear markets, those who keep their head make money and they also advance in life. I think when we panic at the first sign of frustration, even severe frustration, there's hell to pay for that. Cooler heads in all fields prevail.
I think history proves it. Someone was brave enough in '87 to dive into the market. Peter Lynch was among them; George Soros was among them. Someone was brave enough to come back into the market, say, after [9/11] when the markets opened about a week later and they were crashing. And a lot of big companies were buying back their stock back then, confident that they might not be buying at the bottom but they were buying into a good prospect and that is America's future.
So I think when we panic and lose sight of that, we lose sight of our history and our very DNA. I don't think we're going to do that and I'd like to remind our people here and people who watch us on the air for both networks, FBN and FNC, keep calm. Keep calm. We'll get through this.
MCN: Any advice to Mr. and Mrs. John Q. Public in this troubled time?
NC: The cover story in [the Oct. 13 edition of ] Time that shows the Great Depression did a great disservice.
Now our parents and grandparents remember full well what that was like. They remember 25% unemployment. They would not equate that to the 6.1% we have now. They remember a time when no company was making money. Not that situation today where most companies are making money, save the financial sector.
I'm not trying to minimize what we're going through here, but I'm not trying to maximize it either. I'm not trying to equate it to the Great Depression. I'm not trying to say it is the end of the world. I think if we are looking at this as horrific, what must our parents or grandparents think of our perspective?
I think that is a disservice we do to our own DNA. And I would just like to remind folks that you don't get anywhere with a problem exaggerating the problem. These are tough times, it's a given. Making them worse and playing Barney Fife doesn't help matters any.