Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Mark Haines, 1946-2011

All over Washington, people keep TV's in their offices. Some use them only on the weekends or late at night. But a lot of folks like me leave them on all day -- with the sound turned down, of course -- so that they can check the headlines and latest developments. (We're the reason for all those annoying crawls that you see everywhere).

Now, if you're going to do this, you really should pick a station and stick with it. The whole idea is that the TV is just running in the background, and that you only notice it when something big happens. If you're constantly switching channels, you're paying way too much attention.

I use CNBC. A lot of my work involves economic and trade issues, and CNBC covers those issues more than everyone else. Also, the other news channels are too partisan for this type of viewing -- they focus more on trying to make their political points than on telling you what is going on.

So almost every weekday since the summer of 2002 (when I got an office with a TV), CNBC has been running silently in my office -- which means that I saw a lot of Mark Haines. He was the anchor of CNBC's morning program -- he usually signed off about 10 AM. About once a month or so, something big would happen during his show, and I would turn on the sound to see what was up. He was really amazingly good at his job -- business-like but funny, serious but skeptical -- a great interviewer and someone who was willing to question the conventional wisdom, but without putting on airs or seemingly trying to draw attention to himself.

CNBC's great weakness is that its anchors and commentators tend to be too favorable to Wall Street -- they want Wall Street to do well in the same way someone like Michael Wilbon wants the NBA to do well, so they don't like to ask really hard questions. Mark Haines always seemed much less intimidated by the whole process, which allowed him to be much more plain-spoken.
Of course, most of the time I didn't hear anything he said. But it was nice to know that he was there, puncturing balloons and questioning platitudes.

This morning, as I was on a conference call, I happened to notice that the CNBC crawl said that Mark Haines had died at the age of 65. It was a stunning blow. I think he was on the air just last week. I called my dad, of course, because he watches CNBC even more than I do. And all morning, as I've worked on other matters, I've noticed CNBC doing various tributes to their fallen comrade -- all these faces that I know so well, even though I almost never hear them.

In important ways, of course, I don't know anything about Mark Haines. I never knew his background, or how he started working for CNBC, or where he was from, or what he really believed, or anything like that. But human beings are wired to like routine and to sympathize with each other, and it is amazing how someone you see every day can become a part of your mental landscape. If nothing else, I know this: whatever TV anchors are supposed to do, he did very, very well.

1 comment:

  1. This is a fine tribute. I don't watch CNBC, so I was unfamiliar with Mark Haines. I got a lot out of reading about him here.

    It's jarring when someone who is part of your routine disappears. Right now, I'm typing this while sitting on a conference call with a client company, who is losing one of its employees with whom I have regularly worked with over the last six years. Odd.

    I actually don't know that I've ever been more rocked by a death than by that of a 40-or-so-year-old restaurant server not long after we moved to Madisonville in 2008. We had gone into this downtown sandwich shop a couple of times right after we arrived and before our daughter arrived. And then we went in quite a bit--three or five times--in the first year after the birth. So one day on our way out, I remarked to my wife that this particular server was like our first new friend in our new town. And then within the week following, her obituary showed up in The Messenger. So young, so sad. Threw me for a loop.

    Anyway, RIP, Mark Haines.