The Radio Equalizer: Brian Maloney

29 January 2007

Maria Bartiromo Flap, CNBC, Citigroup


Under Pressure, CNBC'S Bartiromo Sinking Fast

*** Watch for AAR sale / Franken exit updates ***

What's behind the sudden piling- on against longtime CNBC anchor and radio commentator Maria Bartiromo?

From daily newspapers, blogs and television news programs, there has been a nearly non- stop series of damning reports against the popular cable personality in recent days.

Between revelations of private rides on a corporate jet, to a re- hash of her previous share position flap, it's clear more than one media insider has it in for the network's famous "Money Honey".

Even that tag has created trouble for Bartiromo, after her attempt to trademark the handle was ridiculed on the Internet. At the TVNewser blog, which has been a Maria critic for some time, it was suggested that "jealousy" of emerging co- workers sparked the move.

Excerpted from the Washington Post's Howard Kurtz:

CNBC's Bartiromo Flies Into Citigroup Controversy

Maria Bartiromo, CNBC's star business anchor, has been thrust into the spotlight by the disclosure that her friendship and travels with a top Citigroup executive played a role in his ouster.

Now it turns out that Bartiromo made nearly 50 appearances last year for corporations, trade associations and other groups, with three of them involving Citigroup in such far-flung locales as London and Hong Kong.

CNBC executives say they approved and paid for each trip, and reimbursed Citigroup for the corporate flight. But the time and distance involved raise questions about how close Bartiromo has gotten to some companies she covers and whether she has become more of a celebrity journalist than the Wall Street workhorse of her earlier years.

Todd Thomson, chief of Citigroup's wealth management unit, was forced out last weekend, and part of the reason, the Wall Street Journal reported, was that Thomson spent more than $5 million to sponsor a Sundance Channel program whose hosts were to include Bartiromo and actor Robert Redford.

In one instance, the Journal said, Bartiromo spoke to Citigroup's private-banking clients at luncheons in Hong Kong and Shanghai at Thomson's request, and flew back to the United States with him on the firm's corporate jet. After that, the Journal said, their friendship became an issue and Thomson's boss ordered him not to spend any further company money on events involving Bartiromo.

While some of the 46 events involved other major corporations, such as Google, Charles Schwab and General Electric, they also included appearances on behalf of the AARP, Milken Institute, New York University and various charities.

CNBC executives say that Bartiromo was fostering positive publicity for herself and her network while developing high-level sources among companies she covers. "I don't think there's even the appearance of a conflict of interest," said one executive who asked not to be identified while discussing personnel matters. "We paid our way. This is what we cover. This is what we do."

So far, NBC has
stood by Bartiromo, who maintains a loyal fan following. But negative publicity appears to be growing by the day. Will the network cave under pressure?

While it's entirely possible excessive use of Citigroup's corporate jets does indeed raise an ethical red flag, if she had network approval to take these trips, it's hard to understand the intensity of this controversy.

Let's face it: whether other TV news insiders like it or not, Maria is the primary face of CNBC and a key element of its brand imaging.

As it's vital to generating contacts that lead to important news tips, one would expect her to hobnob with corporate executives on a regular basis.

In addition, her attendence at company events and conferences brings her face- to- face with the business channel's primary viewership constituency.

As a result, she's in a tough position, as she needs to become close to industry leaders, but not too comfortable with them. At the same time, Maria must continue to report critically on corporate developments.

That creates a fine line for Bartiromo to walk and she may have crossed it a bit this time. But nothing justifies the level of media outrage we've seen over her practices.

So what explains the piling- on? Her background may provide a clue: has her rise to the top ruffled a few too many media feathers?

Take a look at this New York Post coverage:

January 28, 2007 -- Maria Bartiromo climbed a long way from hatcheck girl at her father's Brooklyn restaurant to TV star - and married into one of New York's richest and most famous families.

In a career marked by hard work and chutzpah, Bartiromo has matured from the young "Money Honey" reporting from the floor of the New York Stock Exchange to the most marketable and recognizable personality on CNBC - grabbing the biggest assignments and appearing off-camera at advertiser-driven events dozens of times a year.

Along the way, the 39-year-old Bay Ridge native has emerged unscathed after some professional missteps - like the time she gushed during an interview with then Citigroup CEO Sandy Weill that she owned 1,000 shares of Citigroup..

She has also had to deal with the very public scandal related to the family of her husband, Jonathan Steinberg. His father, Saul, the noted 1980s financier, saw his $2 billion insurance empire go up in flames after a series of bad business decisions.

All the hope of becoming a Big Apple power couple evaporated as the Steinberg family Quogue mansion where Bartiromo was wed was sold - as was the $40 million Fifth Avenue palace and the $50 million art collection.

Through it all, Bartiromo shown bright.

But last week, Bartiromo friend Todd Thomson, a top executive at Citigroup, was fired for, among other transgressions, allegedly lavishing company money inappropriately on the gorgeous TV journalist.

And now her fame and reputation is under assault.

As a longtime viewer, your Radio Equalizer was a CNBC addict before there was such a concept, even before the FNN merger. We've never had particularly strong feelings about Bartiromo in the past, but now wonder who exactly is behind the sudden avalanche of attack pieces.

Part of our cynicism comes from working in the media, where knives sometimes emerge from odd places.

From TVNewser, here's a hint as to what may be brewing behind the scenes:

Bartiromo's "Mile-High Club"

"Is this the end for Maria Bartiromo?," a veteran CNBC insider asks TVNewser. "She's creating her own mile-high club... and this could be the last straw of years and years of abuse."

Unconfirmed: "There are people currently on staff here who have been summoned by the company's outside auditor to produce brokerage statements, tax returns, sign releases for the IRS to turn over past tax returns to CNBC," according to another tipster. It's apparently part of an effort to "appear squeaky clean" on the stock ownership issue.

And that's why a lot of people in Engelwood Cliffs are "hot under the collar," the insider says, adding: "This is a major bone of contention in the newsroom."

Does Maria have a huge ego? Most likely, the answer is yes, but so what? Just try succeeding in this business without one; you'll be fed to the wolves in no time at all.

In addition, there's no doubt her type of personality is usually very difficult to deal with in the newsroom. But that's the nature of the beast.

And her attempt to trademark "Money Honey" is just good business sense, otherwise, it could easily be stolen by someone else. She should have done this years ago!

With that, until there is more substantial evidence of significant wrongdoing beyond journalistic misdemeanors, this smells way too much like a media campaign to get her canned.

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Some images: Wikipedia


  • NYC Radio Message Board reporting Franken just announced his last show will be on Valentine's Day.

    America's Long National Nightmare will soon be over.

    By Blogger BF, at 29 January, 2007 12:34  

  • What does that have to do with this compelling feature on Sister Fellatio, BF??

    By Blogger hashfanatic, at 29 January, 2007 21:26  

  • Erin Burnett has now taken Maria's Citi boarding pass.

    CNBC has backed up their star with a bullpen of news honies including Michelle Caruso-Cabrera.

    see their new anchor profile

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 17 October, 2008 14:25  

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