Where’s St. George when you need him?
What is it about TV personalities that makes print journalists go all weak at the knees? The profile in Saturday’s Globe and Mail about Arlene Dickinson, a panelist on CBC-TV’s Dragons’ Den, is positively fawning. Yet it’s written by Jackie McNish, one of the paper’s hardest-hitting investigative journalists. Dickinson is so deft at what she does that she cries while telling McNish about helping an entrepreneur. The article ends focussed on Dickinson’s napkin, still moist from the tracks of her tears about someone else’s travails.
Gad. Nowhere in the profile does it say that precious few of the “deals” that supposedly get done on the show ever come to fruition. Nor does McNish even appear to question Dickinson’s purported talent for recognizing and financing good ideas. As described, her business background includes only how she worked her way up in a Calgary marketing company that she eventually bought. Other than the man whose tale provoked her tears there isn’t a single proof point about how she supplied venture capital to anyone who succeeded, or failed for that matter. Dickinson claims to have invested $2 million in various deals but none of them is revealed to the reader.
And so it always goes for the other panelists, too, untouched by the blemish of disbelief that financial journalists bring to most topics. Kevin O’Leary, whose mutual funds perform poorly compared to the broader market, does little but disparage the poor wretches who dare to explain plans for a better mousetrap. Of all the current panelists who’ve been on the show since it debuted in 2006, only Jim Treliving has actually built two sizeable businesses: Boston Pizza and Mr. Lube.
And yet this kangaroo court draws two million viewers every week. It’s always been said that Wheel of Fortune owes its popularity to the fact that the phrase guests are supposed to figure out is so simple that even viewers not blessed with much by way of brains can beat them to the answer. I can only guess that the same logic applies to Dragons’ Den. Most viewers know nothing about business so they think the panelists must be as bright as Warren Buffett. After all, they dress well, seem to have endless amounts of money at their disposal for investment, and can tap-dance so fast that they overwhelm all comers.
I understand all that. What mystifies me is why the financial media, usually so quick to be skeptical about others in business, gives Dragons’ Den a free pass. Will no one slay the dragons?