The Chairman of the Federal Reserve moves into a new public relations mode today, as Ben Bernanke starts what will be the first of four annual news conferences about the work of the Fed.
The job of Fed Chairman has always been a little mysterious, feeding a variety of conspiracy theories about its work and ties to other groups like the Trilateral Commission and more.
The news conferences will take place four times a year, after the Fed meets for its quarterly policy-making meeting, where announcements are made on interest rates and economic policy.
If I’m working at a business news operation like CNBC, Bloomberg or Fox Business, this will be big-time excitement.
Bernanke is no stranger to the limelight, as he testifies regularly on Capitol Hill, taking questions from lawmakers.
But Fed Chairs usually don’t do press conferences – and you don’t have to have much of an imagination to wonder if there could be some odd questions thrown his way.
In fact, Fed Chairs often don’t do interviews either, making his twice-per-year testimony before the Congress a big story to cover.
Your insider story about what happens when the Fed Chief comes to Capitol Hill is sort of an interesting insight into what goes on here, because it involves what we call a “lockup” for reporters.
Because the insight of the Fed Chairman is so important to the markets, the Federal Reserve does not want the testimony leaked early, for fear that someone could use it to manipulate trading in some way.
So, reporters arrive early at the hearing and are taken into a room where they are not allowed to use their phones or any other communication devices.
They can, however, start to look through the testimony and write their stories about it.
And when the clock hits the time when the hearing starts and the material can be released, everyone can file their stories.
The first Fed Chair that I covered in Congress was Paul Volcker, who was appointed by President Carter and served through the Reagan years.
It was said that the cigar-chomping Volcker could cause the U.S. dollar to rise or fall simply by coughing during a Congressional hearing.
While that wasn’t exactly true, it is a reminder that the Fed Chief can move the markets by what he says – which means any errors can be magnified as well.
We’ll see whether these news conferences drive the news or are soon relegated to C-SPAN3.