Press Conferences at the Federal Reserve?
Managing Editor, CNBC.com
Should Ben Bernanke start holding press conferences?
The idea was raised this morning on "Squawk Box" by Dino Kos, managing director of Portales Partners and former executive vice president of the NY Federal Reserve. He suggested that it might be a way for the Fed chief to "maintain control over the narrative" and strike back at critics of its policies.
"If Jean-Claude Trichet can do that (hold a press conference) after every (European Central Bank) meeting, why not Ben Bernanke?" Kos asked.
It's a notion of particular interest to business journalists, since we're covering the institution all the time. The central bank is typically aloof and guarded in its communications. The Big Guy's unscripted discussions usually come in appearances before Congress or in carefully controlled interviews with journalists who aren't beat reporters (see the "60 Minutes" appearance a few weeks ago. My colleague Steve Liesman had a few choice words about that).
When the Fed chairman does speak, the answers can be a little opaque and hard to follow. Alan Greenspan was the master of the turgid comeback, but Bernanke can do some mean gobbledigook too.
Of course, there's a good reason for all this. One misstatement or fumbled answer from the Fed Chief could conceivably give the Flash Crash a run for its money. Nevertheless the central bank isn't getting credit for keeping its distance these days. Instead it's getting grief for its lack of transparency.
Press conferences would change the journalistic ball game somewhat. For starters, you'd get the chance to publicly say what most people are probably thinking: "What exactly does THAT mean, Mr. Chairman?"
You could also get more general press involved in lobbing questions at the chairman and subsequently writing or telecasting about the answers. And so maybe Main Street would get a little more sense about why the Fed does what it does.
Perhaps that could quench some of the populist anger the Fed is facing. And it's going to face more next year when anti-Fed crusader Ron Paul takes over the House subcommittee overseeing banking activities.
"His life will be more difficult when he goes to testify, there's no doubt about that," Kos noted.
It certainly will be ... but a guest appearance on CNBC and a guest blog on CNBC.com would no doubt ease the pain.