The first week of the Fox Business Network caught the channel in a mood somewhere between puppyish excitement and irrational exuberance. The network flourished its gimmicks and motifs and mantras—endlessly professing a devotion to "Main Street"—with such verve as to inspire awed respect for its red-white-and-blue hucksterism and wonder at its toddlerlike shamelessness. "Love our graphics," morning anchor Peter Barnes oozed on Monday. The image Barnes referred to promoted his show, Money for Breakfast, with a computer-generated stack of pancakes resembling gargantuan coins, "E Pluribus Unum" on the edge, syrup dripping gaudily. "Great graphics team working on the show," he continued, wishfully.
Shortly, Barnes' co-host, Alexis Glick, was doing a stand-up in Times Square, the first installment of what is threatened to be a regular feature revealing how much money people earn working strange jobs. The interviewee was Robert Burck, better known as the Naked Cowboy, the busker who works in a western hat and tighty-whiteys. He spoke of his inspirations: "Well, it actually all started with a book called Unlimited Power by Anthony Robbins. …" He revealed a lively capacity for self-delusion: "I'm the third-greatest tourist attraction in New York City." He said he pulls in a quarter of a million dollars a year, plus royalties, and Barnes was so overcome by this information that, back in the studio, he stripped off his suit jacket and bayed about transforming into "the naked anchor," asking a member of the crew if he could borrow his underwear.
Would you believe that Fox Business dedicated four and a half minutes of air time to the Naked Cowboy segment? Is it obvious that the network seems less concerned with unseating CNBC as a tool for traders than with developing itself as a lifestyle accessory? As if apologizing for all its market updates and bulletins on housing starts, the channel offers a steady stream of colorful pop detritus and quasi-journalistic inventions that didn't need inventing. Launch day was the 56th anniversary of I Love Lucy's premiere, and anchor Tom Sullivan—a folksy gent lacking the smarminess of his male colleagues—ran tape of Mr. and Mrs. Arnez. After chuckling about how deeply his wife admires Lucy, he then committed a segue. "We go from Lucy to the Merc, and how many shows can do that?" Reporter Jeff Flock and a cameraman had been wobbling around the Chicago Mercantile Exchange all morning. "No one's ever done a live roving camera on the floor of the Merc!" said Flock. Had it occurred to him that there might be good reasons for this?
Any serious discussion of Fox Business—and, for that matter, all of the unserious ones—must address the pulchritude and presentation of its female talent. Nicole Petillades has been reporting from the floor of the New York Stock Exchange in sweaters of a Nancy Reagan red and eye shadow applied with a pageant girl's attention to understatement. In her first day on the job, Liz Claman, formerly of CNBC, chatted up Warren Buffett in a segment that spent half its time focusing on the Berkshire Hathaway executive and the rest appraising Claman's legs. Rebecca Gomez, co-host of the incoherent aftermarket show Happy Hour, sheathes herself in dresses so tight as to indicate the hollow of her navel.
And yet the Fox foxes come off as capable journalists, or at least as competent teleprompter readers, except perhaps Gomez, who's been soliciting viewers' ideas about what she should wear on air at Halloween. It's the men of Fox Business who look like bimbos. Neil Cavuto, masterfully unctuous and ceaselessly self-regarding as the host of an eponymous 6 p.m. broadcast, allows a lurid little pout to spread across his mouth whenever teasing the arrival of a "billionaire" guest. To balance his interviews with senators and CEOs, Cavuto has brought in such noted financial wizards as figure skater Nancy Kerrigan and superstar preacher Joel Osteen, engaging the latter in a conversation about "spiritual leadership" that naturally turned to Britney Spears: "Would you ever meet with her if she needed your office and your counsel?"
Meanwhile, David Asman, host of America's Nightly Scoreboard, has spent a disproportionate volume of time discussing matters related to Stephen Colbert, and Cody Willard, who trades flirty banter with Gomez on Happy Hour, needs to tuck his shirt in. Broadcast from a bar at the Waldorf-Astoria, Happy Hour arrives billed as the show "where Wall Street meets rock and roll." Its visuals go heavy on canted angles and shaky camerawork, as if we're seeing it through the eyes of a broker loaded on Johnnie Walker Blue and preparing to sexually harass something. Its first guest, a private-equity investor and former Reagan-administration economist, casually advocated the assassination of Vladimir Putin.
Amid all of these pandering stunts and all this spicy nonsense, one program, The Dave Ramsey Show, stands as a beacon of sanity. It's a personal-finance show, but Ramsey, a Nashville-based radio host, abjures the drill-sergeant manner and personal-trainer vibe of CNBC's Suze Orman. The structure is evangelical: Sinners call in to confess their misadventures with car loans and credit cards, and Ramsey preaches his gospel of fiscal responsibility with many a down-home metaphor. "We don't sell microwave ovens," he said last week, encouraging a caller's patience in ridding herself of debt. "We sell crockpots." Alone among his new colleagues, Ramsey is pushing a useful product. He's an anomaly on Fox Business, a network thus far devoted to selling itself.