Bill Steigerwald

Erin Burnett of CNBC is not just another frequently appearing pretty TV face in the world of big-time business reporting. The anchor of CNBC's "Street Signs" (2-3 p.m.) and co-anchor of "Squawk on the Street" (9-11 a.m.), Burnett is a former investment banking analyst at Goldman Sachs and a former vice president at Citigroup. She's also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and a regular contributor to NBC network news shows and "Morning Joe" on MSNBC.

I talked to Burnett by telephone at 3 p.m. Thursday as stocks were soaring on word that the federal government was going to create a special entity that would handle the huge real estate debt that has brought down major financial institutions and created a crisis on Wall Street:

Q: On a 1-to-10 scale, 10 being a meltdown, where are we right now?

A: It depends on who you ask. For many market players, this is a 9 or 10 event. You continue to see headlines discussing this as the worst crisis since the Great Depression. Some people would even say it's the worst crisis since 1907, so if you think about it that way, you have to say it's a 10.

If you look across America, which is something I've been spending a lot of time doing with CEOs of regional banks who can speak for one bank or up to 1,000 banks, there is a slow economy. That is a broader fundamental issue. But in terms of whether these banks are operating, able to get money, able to lend money, able to consider bringing in new customers and funding new projects, their answer is, "Yes, they're able to do all those things." So on that Main Street level, things have gotten worse, there are some real concerns, but it is most certainly not a 10. I don't know what it is, but let's call it a 5 or a 6.

Q: What is your sound-bite answer to a typical stockholder or nervous 401(k) owner who asks, "What the heck's going on?"

Bill Steigerwald

Bill Steigerwald, born and raised in Pittsburgh, is a former L.A. Times copy editor and free-lancer who also worked as a docudrama researcher for CBS-TV in Hollywood before becoming a reporter for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and a columnist Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Bill Steigerwald recently retired from daily newspaper journalism..