NEW YORK—Rattled by Wall Street's extreme volatility of late, CNN Moneyline anchor Lou Dobbs hosted the program from a windy ledge high above New York's financial district Tuesday.
"The Dow was up 579 points today, rebounding sharply from Monday's 611-point loss," said Dobbs, as he struggled to simultaneously address the camera, retain his grip on the exterior wall of the Prescott Securities Tower, and prevent his tie from blowing into his face from the wind outside the 63rd floor. "Stocks plummeted early in the day, with the industrial average hitting a five-year low of 7,627 by noon, but by 3 p.m., bargain hunters moved in, raising the average to a robust 9,143."
Trying hard not to look down, Dobbs analyzed the day's wild fluctuations.
"This morning's plunge was largely attributable to breaking news of a massive accounting scandal at Cinergy," said Dobbs, causing panic among the crowd below as he leaned out to glance at the stock-ticker crawl on the side of the building. "Also shaking investor confidence was the 11 a.m. announcement that the U.S. consumer-confidence index had fallen from 106.3 to 97.1."
Added Dobbs, sweat pouring from his face: "Confidence was restored, however, at around 2 p.m., when President Bush signed a tough new corporate-crime bill, prompting a furious late rally that nearly made up for the massive losses."
On Monday, Dobbs alerted CNN by handwritten memo that he would be broadcasting from the ledge for "the foreseeable future." In the memo, Dobbs noted that, given the state of the economy, he had "no clue how long the foreseeable future might be."
Toward the end of Tuesday's program, Dobbs interviewed New York City police officer Jim Alland, with whom he discussed the recent erosion of mutual-fund-based retirement portfolios of civil servants, as well as the possibility of Dobbs coming down off the ledge.
"Not that pulling everything out of your 401(k) and taking the one-time tax hit is what I'd recommend," Dobbs told Alland through a bullhorn, while safety-net-bearing officers stood at the ready below. "Their relative stability and tax-free nature might be enough to offset the considerable short-term loss we've all been seeing that makes us want to just give up."
Dobbs' guests on the ledge tomorrow will include former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, AOL Time Warner CEO Richard Parsons, and "Mary Mumbles," a homeless schizophrenic who has been on the ledge since early July.
"And Friday on Moneyline, we'll be talking to SEC chief Harvey Pitt about the Adelphia scandal," said Dobbs, sliding to a sitting position on the 11-inch ledge. "Also on the program, Senate leader Tom Daschle will discuss the call for SEC chief Harvey Pitt's resignation for his role in the Adelphia scandal."
Dobbs' window-ledge appearance is regarded as the most striking display of economic anxiety from a media figure since "Black Monday," Oct. 19, 1987. On that day, the Dow lost more than 22 percent of its total value, prompting Louis Rukeyser to host an entire hour of Wall Street Week holding a gun to his head.
Market watchers say Tuesday's show contrasted sharply with Dobbs' broadcasts of the late '90s.
"This is a far cry from the Moneyline of 1999, when the NASDAQ, fueled by the booming New Economy, soared past 4,000, and the Dow was at 11,000," said Gene Sperling, a senior market analyst at Bloomberg Financial. "Back then, toga-clad nymphettes would feed an opium-sodden Dobbs peeled grapes as he broadcast from a pool high atop Caesar's Palace in Vegas."
"It's a rocky time for investors," said Chuck Hill, Dobbs' sometime co-anchor and "First Call" segment host, speaking from inside the studio bathroom where he locked himself Tuesday night. "And it's far from over: There's still a long way down, and many in the business world are wondering who will hose up the mess once this roller-coaster ride is finally through."
Dobbs, meanwhile, said he is committed to staying at his post.
"This is a crucial, do-or-die time, both on and above Wall Street," said Dobbs in Tuesday's closing remarks, during which he thanked the NYPD; intern Karen Gross, who repeatedly retrieved his loafers from street level; and CNN, "for all the good times which are now so much dust."
After giving away most of his earthly possessions to his staff, Dobbs concluded: "I want to close with a thought that, unfortunately, may not ease your worries. I never forecast the market on this show, and I'm not about to start now, but I think my position on this economy—and on this window ledge—speaks for itself."