Andrew Ross Sorkin woke up early Monday morning, long before the crack of dawn, after managing to sneak in a handful of hours of sleep.
The New York Times columnist had been up late into the night working on his DealBook newsletter. And now he needed to rise for a special edition of “Squawk Box,” the CNBC program he has co-hosted since 2011.
The special 5am edition of “Squawk” had been tasked with covering the continuing fallout stemming from the sudden collapse of Silicon Valley Bank, a massive financial news story that has drawn some eerie comparisons to the beginnings of the 2008 financial disaster.
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It is a story Sorkin described covering as “a balancing act, a little bit like walking a tight rope.” On one hand, he said, journalists must avoid sparking panic and causing a catastrophic run on the banks. But, on the other hand, journalists also owe it to their audiences to deliver them a clear-eyed assessment of the state of affairs.
“Our job as journalists is to tell the public what is happening — and if you believe in transparency, we should all want that,” Sorkin said. “The downside of transparency in real-time is sometimes news that may not be positive can pile on itself in a way. And so I think it is really just about trying to contextualize what we’re seeing.”
“You don’t want to cause a run on a bank,” Sorkin added, “but then at the same time, if everyone is running and they have reason to run, I think it’s important that the public understands what’s happening.”
The approach to delivering the news and covering the implosion of SVB that Sorkin described stands in stark contrast to some of the commentary saturating the internet and at other media outlets.
Over the weekend, some venture capital influencers amplified fear and suggested the entire US banking system was on the verge of collapse. The investor Jason Calacanis, who hosts a podcast and commands a Twitter audience of nearly 700,000 followers, tweeted, “YOU SHOULD BE ABSOLUTELY TERRIFIED RIGHT NOW.” On the right-wing talk channel Fox News Monday morning, “Fox & Friends” co-host Ainsley Earhardt suggested Americans needed “to go to our banks and take our money out.”
Unprecedented in its sheer speed and volume, SVB’s collapse is “fascinating,” Sorkin said, causing a meltdown only now possible in the “true age of social media, as well as what might be described as digital banking.”
“The ability for information to spread rapidly, both good information and bad, and for people to act on that information and then going to a bank app and transferring funds from one place to another, makes the responsibility [for journalists] even greater,” Sorkin said.
Sorkin said banking is ultimately a “confidence game,” explaining that it is “genuinely about whether people have confidence in leaving their money in a particular institution.” And in this current environment where social media influencers and other irresponsible voices thrive, Sorkin said it “inherently makes things less stable.”
“You have a lot of people who are on social media who don’t necessarily feel the same responsibilities to contextualize the news in the same way I might try,” Sorkin said. He suggested that in the case of SVB, there may have been “a little smoke in the corner of the theater” that could have been addressed before a fire burst out and prompted danger.
“If you scream ‘fire,’ everyone runs out of the theater,” Sorkin said. “Could the smoke have been put out before everyone ran out of the theater? Maybe.”