Louis Passes

Louis Rukeyser passed away yesterday.

More than anyone, I owe my financial wonkiness to Louis. As a kid, I used to watch him every Friday night — probably for the better part of three decades. Wall Street Week was, then, where I learned a good chunk of what I know about the stock market. Yes, it sounded like a different language at first (doesn’t most every area of endeavor have its jargon barrier that one has to break through in order to start the endeavoring?), but after a while I spoke the lingo and kept learning more and more.

Thank you Louis.

* * *

Louis had bad hair (knowingly, it seemed) and bad puns (knowingly, it seemed), but he also had a very healthy approach to investing compared to the mania that is CNBC et alia today. He was a buy-and-hold type.

About five years ago, PBS canned Louis, a move that ranks right up there with CBS canning Walter Cronkite.

If memory serves, PBS canned Louis right around the same time that PBS in SF (KQED) decided it would no longer follow through on the joke that was its non-commercial commercials approach to corporate sponsorship, and decided to just run car commercials for real.

It was also about then that PBS at the national level started making a handful of self-help gurus and guruinis rich by televising purely-commercial infomercials featuring this handful of folks (e.g., Perricone).

Any of those things by itself would have turned me away from PBS, but firing Louis and replacing him with a not-all-that-interesting fellow from Fortune magazine (and changing the name of Louis’s show to Wall Street Week with Fortune — eegads!) was sufficient all by itself to turn me away.

What were they thinking?

Louis went on to cable, but stories of failing health soon circulated, and yesterday the circle closed.

* * *

I worry now that young people will not have a Louis in their life to teach them about long-term investing, as Louis did for me.

Now maybe I sound like an old fart when I say that, and I truly hope that there is someone out there filling Louis’s shoes (to the extent they can be filled) so that people just coming to investing are able to sit at the knee of a person with some wisdom and learn the difference between investing and gambling — the difference between using investing as a tool to help fortify one’s financial health and using it as a quick-fix attraction that more often than not will hurt those who approach it blithely.

But my fear is that the fast-ticker-crawl along the bottom of the screen, the ever-changing information box up on the right, and the buy/sell hot stock/cold stock talking-heads-that-can-move-markets / therefore-you-must-watch-the-talking heads approach of today is triumphant (CNBC is on, all the time, in every trading space, period the end) and that the much slower East Coast Brahmin drawl of one Louis Rukeyser, presented sans any video/Avid cleverness (so that, eegads again, there’s just a person there saying stuff) and his ilk has left the media stage forever.

Time marches on. It will be what it will be. The fact is, though, that yesterday we all lost a strong voice of investing reason.



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