Andrew Ross Sorkin of CNBC says coverage of the SVB collapse is like “walking a tightrope”.


Andrew Ross Sorkin woke up early Monday morning, well before dawn, after several hours of sleep.

The New York Times columnist worked late into the night on his DealBook newsletter. And now he had to step up for the Squawk Box special, a CNBC program he’s hosted since 2011.

The Squawk special, which airs at 5am, has been tasked with covering the ongoing fallout from the sudden collapse of the Silicon Valley bank, a big financial news piece that drew some macabre comparisons to the onset of the 2008 financial crash.

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It’s a story that Sorkin described as “balancing, a bit like walking on a tight rope.” On the one hand, he said, journalists should avoid fomenting panic and a catastrophic bank run. But, on the other hand, journalists are also obliged to give their audience a sober assessment of the state of affairs.

“Our job as journalists is to tell the public what’s going on, and if you believe in transparency, we should all want that,” Sorkin said. “The downside of real-time transparency is that sometimes news that may not be positive can pile up in some way. And so I think it’s really just an attempt to contextualize what we’re seeing.”

“You don’t want to cause a bank run,” Sorkin added, “but at the same time, if everyone is running and they have a reason to run, I think it’s important that the public understands what’s going on.”

Sorkin’s approach to news delivery and coverage of the collapse of the SVB contrasts sharply with some of the commentary that saturates the Internet and other media.

Over the weekend, some venture capital influencers heightened fears and suggested that the entire US banking system was on the brink of collapse. Investor Jason Calacanis, who hosts a podcast and manages a Twitter audience of nearly 700,000 followers, tweeted, “RIGHT NOW YOU SHOULD BE ABSOLUTELY TERRIBLE.” Fox & Friends co-host Ainsley Erhardt said on Fox News’ right-hand talk channel Monday morning that Americans need to “go to our banks and take our money.”

The collapse of SVB, unprecedented in its speed and scope, is “captivating”, causing a collapse that is only possible now, in the “true age of social media as well as what could be called digital banking,” Sorkin said.

“The ability to quickly spread information, both good and bad, and the ability of people to act on that information and then jump into a banking app and transfer funds from one place to another, makes the responsibility [for journalists] even more,” Sorkin said.

Sorkin said that banking is ultimately “a game of trust”, explaining that it “really depends on whether people are confident when they leave 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 the situation less stable.”

“You have a lot of people on social media who don’t necessarily feel the same responsibility for contextualizing the news in the same way that I might try,” Sorkin said. He suggested that in the case of the SVB, there might have been “a little smoke in the corner of the theater” that could be cleared out before the fire broke out and danger arose.

“If you shout fire, everyone will run out of the theater,” Sorkin said. “Was it possible to put out the smoke before everyone ran out of the theater? May be.”

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