Watching CNBC like it was

Watching CNBC like it was 1999: Actually, it was nothing like 1999, which is why I’m mentioning it. CNBC had been the VIP room at the analyst’s club for the entire boom of the 1990’s. But in an utterly transfixing burst of reporting, reporter Mike Huckman caught Jack Grubman, a top Salomon analyst of Worldcom, on tape [scroll down for the video] by waiting outside his townhouse yesterday morning. Nothing new about that, right? Except that the video they got was so completely different from anything else I’d seen on CNBC (or from any other reporting on this type of story, for that matter).
Mr Grubman (who, apparently, is a neighbor) was definitely caught off guard by the reporter and his polite persistence. His answers were unremarkably shocking (“What can I say? I’m not part of the company?” “I’m no different than anyone else on Wall Street.”), especially given his nearly god-like stature in the telecom industry. [Anecdote: When he was earning only $3.5 million in 1997, it was so much that younger analysts at Salomon began pricing things in $3.5m “Grubman units.” He made as much as $25 million/year since then, though, presumably requiring all sorts of G.U. recalculations.]
But what was most gripping was the man’s palpable sense of loss of control, of a seemingly unprecedented sense of unpreparedness as the world he knew (and so dominated) was collapsing around him personally (and on live TV). In between pleas of privacy, ignorance, and harassment, he still answers questions, cagily and painfully; he clearly wants to be left alone, but also wants to make sense of things. At the end of the clip, Grubman attempts to flee the wrong way up Fifth Avenue, when he abruptly turns and gives one final answer (“So this caught you completely by surprise?” “Yes. Yes.”) He then walks into an empty Fifth Avenue to get away. No waiting car.