Ethical Questions Grow Regarding CNBC's 'Money Honey' Bartiromo

Discussion in 'Wall St. News' started by ByLoSellHi, Feb 12, 2007.


    Questions Grow About a Top CNBC Anchor

    Published: February 12, 2007

    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.

    CNBC’s Maria Bartiromo with racecar driver Mario Andretti at the 2004 gala for the Columbus Day parade in New York.

    Maria Bartiromo as CNBC’s “Business Center” co-host in 1997

    The test drivers included Todd S. Thomson, then the chief executive of Citigroup’s 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.

    “It’s the ultimate package of sex and performance,” 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 CNBC’s 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 Citigroup’s 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. Thomson’s 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 network’s top anchor. CNBC has said that it paid commercial fare to Citigroup for Ms. Bartiromo’s trip to China. And last week, Jeffrey R. Immelt, the chief executive of General Electric, CNBC’s parent, voiced his support for Ms. Bartiromo and the cable network.

    “Substantially, I don’t think she did anything wrong,” 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 — shot from inside the CNBC newsroom — 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. Bartiromo’s proximity to the people she covers has created a model of journalism that jibes perfectly with CNBC’s mandate to ramp up its ratings by adding pizzazz and drama to its coverage.

    Still, Mr. Thomson’s departure and Ms. Bartiromo’s connection to him have raised questions within the network over the possible tension between CNBC’s 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.

    “That is not what I said,” Mr. Gasparino shot back. “I didn’t say that,” 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. Thomson’s 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. Thomson’s 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. Gasparino’s 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. Gasparino’s job.

    Nevertheless, Mr. Gasparino never reported on Mr. Thomson’s threatened job status. He was urged to proceed cautiously with the story, but some within the network say Ms. Bartiromo’s role in the story prevented it from being fully reported.

    Mr. Wald adamantly disagrees with that interpretation. “We were clear from the beginning about reporting the story to the fullest. We did not air it because it was not adequately sourced. It didn’t meet our criteria from a journalist’s standpoint, and it clearly wouldn’t have met our lawyers’ criteria.”

    On Jan 22, when Citigroup announced Mr. Thomson’s resignation, Mr. Gasparino could barely contain his frustration.

    “Two weeks ago I caught wind that essentially Todd Thomson was out,” 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. Bartiromo’s link to Mr. Thomson’s departure.

    Typically, Ms Bartiromo’s 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 “the Google.”

    “She is not a marshmallow,” said Gerard R. Roche, the chairman of the executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles, who has been interviewed by Ms. Bartiromo.
  2. John J. Mack, the chief executive of Morgan Stanley, agreed, recalling an interview he had with her. “She put me on the spot big time,” he said, adding that he did not socialize with Ms. Bartiromo.

    “She is a professional,” Mr. Mack said. “You can’t assume that you will go on air and that it will be a cakewalk.”

    At the same time, the occasional gushing aside can betray an admiration for her subjects — many of whom she knows socially, either from events at the New York City Ballet, where she is a trustee, or her regular lunches at San Pietro, the favored restaurant of Wall Street titans.

    “When we come back, the allure of John Mack,” she once said during an interview.

    In many instances, the sentiment on Wall Street seems to be mutual.

    It is an appreciation that dates back to Ms. Bartiromo’s early days in the mid-1990s, when she made a name for herself as the first journalist to report live from the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

    “At the height of CNBC mania, we had these C.E.O.’s and celebrities beating down our door to ring the stock exchange bell,” said Robert T. Zito, a former executive vice president at the stock exchange. “The one thing they wanted to do was meet Maria.”

    For the daughter of a restaurant owner in Bay Ridge in Brooklyn, her rise to celebrity status — there are Web sites devoted to her, Joey Ramone wrote a song in her honor and she has recently trademarked her “Money Honey” nickname — has been meteoric.

    And while much has been made of her Sophia Loren-like looks, her early career ascent was propelled by pluck, ambition and like another famous, albeit fictional, product of Bay Ridge, Tony Manero in “Saturday Night Fever,” a hunger to make it big across the river in Manhattan.

    She switched from C. W. Post College to New York University, and in her first media job at WMCA Radio, she impressed the radio personality Barry Farber with her willingness to do more than her share of dirty work.

    On one occasion, Mr. Farber recalled, he was sent “100 pounds of frozen North Carolina pork barbecue” and before it could melt, Ms. Bartiromo not only found a charity to take it, but delivered the meat herself in her own car. “She had the stuff and she knew how to deploy it,” he said.

    In 1990, just out of college, she met Jonathan Steinberg, the son of Saul Steinberg, the corporate raider. As the two began dating, it was Mr. Steinberg, who presided over a personal finance magazine and a hedge fund, who attracted the media attention. The couple married in 1999.

    But Ms. Bartiromo’s public profile would eclipse his. After a stint working for Lou Dobbs at CNN, she moved to CNBC in 1993. She became a star once she started broadcasting from the stock exchange floor.

    As her recognition grew, so did the fortunes of CNBC, and it is estimated that her compensation exceeds $1 million.

    And when she disclosed last year that the new chairman of the Federal Reserve, Ben S. Bernanke, had told her in a conversation at the White House Correspondents dinner that the markets had misinterpreted his remarks on interest rates, her reputation as an insider became even more entrenched.

    Despite the controversy, Ms. Bartiromo remains a staple of CNBC. And she has kept up her public appearances, and her sense of humor.

    Earlier this month, she was scheduled to present a lifetime leadership award to former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan at the CNBC executive achievement award ceremony, at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in New York.

    “Sorry I’m late,” she said with a slight giggle as she stepped up to the dais. “But I had to fly commercial.”


    CNBC's Maria B. On The Hot Seat

    Posted on Feb 13th, 2007 with stocks: GE

    Henry Blodget submits: Landon Thomas of the NYT has weighed in on the Money Honey Scandal, noting that in addition to a Shanghai-NY private jet ride at Citigroup's (C) behest, Maria also enjoyed a Ferrari ride, and that another CNBC reporter, Charles Gasparino, may have had a sock stuffed in his mouth as he attempted to report on some of this stuff. CNBC has defended Maria and denies gagging Gasparino, and Maria herself has wisely avoided comment.

    If nothing else, the scandal has allowed a planet-full of media organizations to run Maria's picture, resulting in the predictable spike in readership (Landon's story rocketed to No. 1 on the Times' most emailed business stories this morning). It has also rekindled a debate about what is and isn't appropriate for journalists to do as they cozy up to potential sources.

    As with other conflict-of-interest scandals, there is often an element of Puritanism in the Maria coverage (though not Landon's) -- the implicit idea that journalists should live in hermetically sealed bubbles or else risk losing their "objectivity." Usually missing is the acknowledgment that no journalist is ever truly "objective". Every decision about what to report, how to report it, which sources to listen to, which sources to ignore, and even which words to choose (the difference between "he said" and "he claimed" is enormous) compromises objectivity.

    maria bThis is not to say that journalists should trade good coverage for suitcases full of cash or midnight visits from the "Pussy Patrol," as a sleazy film critic on Entourage does. It is, however, to suggest that we should probably get less enamored with the word "objective" and just settle for "fair."

    Did Maria's accepting private-jet and Ferrari rides from Citigroup cross the line? Did spending the 14 hours at 40,000 feet alone (presumably) with a senior Citigroup executive cross the line? At the very least, it probably made Maria less eager to recklessly bash Citigroup. This in itself, however, is not necessarily a bad thing. The most objectivity-compromising influence on most journalists is not sources but readers and viewers -- specifically, the need to tell a compelling story or else be ignored. So strong relationships on the source side can in some cases mean more objective coverage.

    Ultimately, perception aside, the question here is not whether Maria's close relationship with Citigroup (and the senior executive) "affected her coverage"--EVERYTHING affects coverage. Ultimately the question is whether the relationship prevented her from telling a story that otherwise should have been told. At this point, anyway, Maria seems to be the only one in a position to address that.
  4. If she was a man and traveled on a private jet with a woman, she would have already been fired.
  5. Wow.

    Lots of back-fighting stuff.

    The only, tiny, little bit of cred CNBC has (had?) was when Charlie Gas went after people.

    If Maria has shut him down to keep from exposing her "friends", then CNBC is totally freakin worthless.
  6. I'd love to see Charlie open up a can of whoop ass on Maria.
  7. Hello try this, Bloomberg.

    The Never Watching The Garbage VIPER
  8. archon


    Makes you wonder exactly what type of relationship she had with that citigroup exec...?
  9. 2006


    Did she suck is CAC40 or what?
  10. [​IMG]

    #10     Feb 14, 2007