http://www.nytimes.com/2007/02/12/business/media/12bartiromo.html Questions Grow About a Top CNBC Anchor By LANDON THOMAS Jr. Published: February 12, 2007 THE NEW YORK TIMES In November 2005, Citigroup gathered top clients at a lush spa resort in Napa Valley for two days of wine tasting and a chance to road test some of the hottest luxury cars on the market. CNBCâs Maria Bartiromo with racecar driver Mario Andretti at the 2004 gala for the Columbus Day parade in New York. Maria Bartiromo as CNBCâs âBusiness Centerâ co-host in 1997 The test drivers included Todd S. Thomson, then the chief executive of Citigroupâs wealth management arm, car collectors, clients of the bank and Maria Bartiromo, the CNBC anchor and celebrity guest. Their charge: To pick the 2006 car of the year for Robb Report, the luxury magazine. Like many of the judges, Ms. Bartiromo chose the bright red Ferrari Spider, according to one attendee. So did Mr. Thomson, a car enthusiast. âItâs the ultimate package of sex and performance,â he told a reporter for the magazine. With its blend of high living, glitz and privileged access, the event provides a glimpse of the rarefied world inhabited by Ms. Bartiromo, who, in her years as CNBCâs most recognizable face, has lent to the reporting of once gray business news a veneer of gloss and celebrity. Socializing with sources is a long journalistic tradition, especially for television personalities whose renown often allows them to travel in the same elite circles as their subjects. But for Ms. Bartiromo, who accompanied Mr. Thomson last fall on Citigroupâs corporate jet to a series of client and other bank-sponsored functions in China, her ability to gain entree into the exclusive and mostly male world of chief executives and financial titans has made her a valuable commodity to CNBC. After Mr. Thomsonâs abrupt departure from Citigroup, however, such ties have raised questions about her closeness to her sources, all of whom she also covers as the cable networkâs top anchor. CNBC has said that it paid commercial fare to Citigroup for Ms. Bartiromoâs trip to China. And last week, Jeffrey R. Immelt, the chief executive of General Electric, CNBCâs parent, voiced his support for Ms. Bartiromo and the cable network. âSubstantially, I donât think she did anything wrong,â he said. A CNBC spokesman said that Ms. Bartiromo flew commercial to the California event and that the network paid for her flight as it was network business. Ms. Bartiromo declined to comment for this article. CNBC declined to comment on whether executives had any discussions with her concerning her relationship with Mr. Thomson. However, people inside of CNBC did say that she will continue to cover the company as part of her regular duties. Whether it is providing a personalized video tribute â shot from inside the CNBC newsroom â to Stephen A. Schwarzman, the chairman of the buyout giant Blackstone Group to celebrate his 60th birthday or mingling with a source at a benefit for the New York City Ballet, Ms. Bartiromoâs proximity to the people she covers has created a model of journalism that jibes perfectly with CNBCâs mandate to ramp up its ratings by adding pizzazz and drama to its coverage. Still, Mr. Thomsonâs departure and Ms. Bartiromoâs connection to him have raised questions within the network over the possible tension between CNBCâs duty to pursue big financial news stories and its loyalty to Ms. Bartiromo. On Dec. 11, after the appointment of Robert Druskin as chief operating officer of Citigroup, Ms. Bartiromo and Charles Gasparino, a CNBC on-air editor, had a brief on-air clash when Ms. Bartiromo remarked that an earlier report by Mr. Gasparino that Sallie L. Krawcheck would leave her job as chief financial officer did not pan out. âThat is not what I said,â Mr. Gasparino shot back. âI didnât say that,â as he argued that Ms. Krawcheck and Mr. Thomson were no longer heirs to succeed Charles O. Prince as chief executive. Subsequently, according to people with an understanding of how the story unfolded, Mr. Gasparino learned that, in fact, Mr. Thomsonâs job was in jeopardy. He explained this to Jonathan Wald, head of news programming, that he had been told by people within Citigroup that top management had examined Mr. Thomsonâs conduct, specifically the occasions that Ms. Bartiromo joined him on the company jet. Mr. Wald told Mr. Gasparino to pursue the story, these people say. When Ms. Bartiromo got wind of Mr. Gasparinoâs reporting, she told Mr. Wald, complaining that her name was being dragged into the matter, these people say. Mr. Wald said that reporting the story was Mr. Gasparinoâs job. Nevertheless, Mr. Gasparino never reported on Mr. Thomsonâs threatened job status. He was urged to proceed cautiously with the story, but some within the network say Ms. Bartiromoâs role in the story prevented it from being fully reported. Mr. Wald adamantly disagrees with that interpretation. âWe were clear from the beginning about reporting the story to the fullest. We did not air it because it was not adequately sourced. It didnât meet our criteria from a journalistâs standpoint, and it clearly wouldnât have met our lawyersâ criteria.â On Jan 22, when Citigroup announced Mr. Thomsonâs resignation, Mr. Gasparino could barely contain his frustration. âTwo weeks ago I caught wind that essentially Todd Thomson was out,â he said on air that morning when the news broke. Compounding this tension is the fact that no CNBC reporter or anchor has mentioned Ms. Bartiromoâs link to Mr. Thomsonâs departure. Typically, Ms Bartiromoâs interviewing style can be probing, aggressive and, her special access notwithstanding, she can make even some of her best sources sweat a bit on camera. In an interview with Robert L. Nardelli, the recently ousted chief executive of Home Depot, she peppered him with sharp questions relating to his conduct and governance at the company. And a question posed to President Bush about his use of Google elicited a revealing response from the president as he referred to the search engine as âthe Google.â âShe is not a marshmallow,â said Gerard R. Roche, the chairman of the executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles, who has been interviewed by Ms. Bartiromo.