Financial television luminary Maria Bartiromo, who in her two decades at CNBC established herself as “The Money Honey,” a sexist nickname she shrewdly trademarked, is jumping to the rival Fox Business Network as well as the Fox News Channel.
The Drudge Report first posted the news on Monday as the 46-year-old Bartiromo was anchoring Closing Bell, CNBC’s late-afternoon stock market program. CNBC officially acknowledged the loss in a statement, noting that Bartiromo “has been at the center of every major financial and business news story…since her earliest days” at the network, but Fox held its fire until an expected announcement later in the week.
Bartiromo, who is expected to finish out the week for a proper sendoff on Friday on CNBC, where she also has been anchoring On the Money, a syndicated business show, is potentially a huge get for Rupert Murdoch’s six-year-old business network, traditionally an also-ran against the Comcast-owned CNBC.
The big question is whether she can lure a significant portion of her loyal CNBC audience to FBN. Comparisons can be invidious, but by some estimates Lou Dobbs, her one-time boss when she was a greenhorn producer and assignment editor at CNN Business News, has been able to draw only 10 percent of his CNN audience in the 25- to 54-year-old demographic since leaping to FBN in March 2011. Of course, CNN is advantaged by being in nearly 30 million more households than FBN. Bartiromo—whom Dobbs notoriously advised against leaving CNN for CNBC in the early 1990s, saying it would be a serious career mistake—might or might not do better.
Fox News Chairman and FBN founder Roger Ailes has apparently been courting his former protégée for a while as he has continued to tweak and add marquee talent to the fledgling financial channel, which in recent years has recruited Dobbs, Don Imus, and John Stossel, among others.
In Ailes’s previous incarnation at CNBC, he launched Bartiromo as an on-air personality and in 1995 made her television’s first woman to report live from the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. Ailes left CNBC to launch Fox News in 1996, but he and Bartiromo kept up with each other.
“I think Roger is terrific. I think Roger is brilliant,” Bartiromo told me in March 2010, adding that FBN at the time was “doing something different than we are at CNBC. It’s pretty clear that we’re doing different things, because we have different viewers. Our viewer is a businessperson who cares about the global story as it relates to the economy and markets. It feels like Fox Business is talking to a different sort of viewer, so it’s really not apples to apples.”
The Brooklyn-born Bartiromo’s precise role at Fox was unclear on Monday afternoon, but she is expected to get her own show on FBN and also provide a high-profile presence on Fox News. Given that she is crossing enemy lines to join the competition, CNBC President Mark Hoffman’s statement, which didn’t mention her new job, was remarkably effusive.
“After 20 years of groundbreaking work at CNBC, Maria Bartiromo will be leaving the company as her contract expires on November 24, 2013,” Hoffman said. “I will leave it up to Maria to let you know where she is headed on her own timetable. Meanwhile, I wish her great happiness and fulfillment as she takes on her next challenge and I thank her for all of her excellent work at CNBC.”
Hoffman said CNBC anchor Kelly Evans will replace Bartiromo on Closing Bell “on an interim basis,” while Becky Quick “will be the first of a number of anchors” to host On the Money until a permanent host is named.