The 'Money Honey' Fires Back
CNBC’s Maria Bartiromo talks to Lloyd Grove about shifting from Wall Street to her own story for her new book, being called a stock market cheerleader—and Eliot Spitzer’s comeback.
Maria Bartiromo is nobody’s fool.
Years ago, when some ink-stained wretch at the New York Post dubbed her the “Money Honey,” arguably a sexist nickname for a hardworking business anchor, she trademarked the moniker and plotted to use it to expand her brand, featuring a “Money Honey” character in a planned animated series to teach finance to kids.
When various media gossips tried to pull her into a manufactured catfight with a nine-years-younger Wall Street cable-television personality—namely Erin Burnett, the so-called Street Sweetie—the 42-year-old Bartiromo gamely laughed off the All About Eve speculation.
“Eliot Spitzer is trying to make his own comeback—and why shouldn’t he?”
And when a troublemaking interviewer (namely me) presses her to respond to various detractors in the financial press who label her and her network, CNBC, “a notorious cheerleader for the stock market,” Bartiromo deftly turns the tables.
“You’re a reporter and you can do your job the way you want to do it—you could put the spotlight on any moment in time,” Bartiromo tells me during a phone call from Italy, where she’s been participating in a forum of European financiers. “But if you’re going to really look at what I’ve done, I’m proud of what I’ve done. I feel like I helped in the demystifying of Wall Street—bringing a camera down to the floor of the New York Stock Exchange and trying to explain what is going on.”
Warming to her theme, and perhaps getting a little hot under the collar (her girl-from-the-hood Brooklynese becoming even earthier and more pronounced), she adds: “I also feel that my viewers know me very well. And when I’m interviewing somebody, my viewers know that I’m gonna ask all the questions they want answered, but I’m not gonna do it in a ‘gotcha’ kinda way—because that’s not who I am. I’m not gonna have somebody on air with me and throw all these fast questions at them and try to gotcha gotcha gotcha gotcha!”
Now Bartiromo—who last year re-upped for another five years as CNBC’s prima diva, while continuing to host her nationally syndicated television program Wall Street Journal Report With Maria Bartiromo—is sharing her philosophy of life and work in The 10 Laws of Enduring Success. It’s a breezy primer based not only on her own experiences but on the up-close-and-personal insights of “Jack” (Welch), “Warren” (Buffett), “Bill” (Gates), “Condi” (Rice), and other high-flying friends of Maria.
The book-jacket art is an inviting photo of the green-eyed, full-lipped author looking like the Sophia Loren of business journalism, perhaps getting ready to dispense some priceless wisdom concerning collateralized debt obligations. “My girlfriends call me up and say, ‘I love your hair and I love your shoes but I no idea what you’re talking about,’” she says with a laugh, explaining her impulse to educate the unmonied.
“This was a bit of a departure for me,” Bartiromo says. “I’m always about economics and the markets as they relate to the global economy, and this is a bit autobiographical… Success is not a subject that I’ve approached before. I really had to give my own perspective on things. I was a little nervous about that. I usually don’t open myself up.”
So, along with a less than shocking list of verities (Vision, Initiative, Courage, Humility, Integrity, etc.), she shares a personal anecdote or two—being consoled early in her career by a senior colleague, CNN financial reporter Kitty Pilgrim, who discovered her sniffling in the ladies’ room after getting an unwanted promotion; coming home and hugging her husband, Jono (son of famously ruined corporate raider Saul Steinberg), after spending her 33rd birthday, Sept. 11, 2001, covering the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.
She also enunciates a strikingly unforgiving belief system: “Be Darwinian,” she admonishes in the chapter on Adaptability, adding that folks should stop complaining about hard times and just get on with it. About a friend who “was whining about the lousy economy” and “resented not being able to stay with her company until she retired,” Bartiromo writes, “It was an amazing perspective, clearly out of touch with the way the world has been working for at least a decade.”
And she can’t resist taking a shot at disgraced former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer for being so tough on her Wall Street associates when he was the state's attorney general—“a ruthless avenging angel,” Bartiromo calls him. “I wonder if by setting himself up as a white knight, and destroying so many lives in the process,” she writes, “he forfeited his own chance at redemption.”
Spitzer, of course, is seeking redemption these days as a guest on CNBC, where his indictments of Wall Street excesses are starting to look pretty good. “I don’t think he’s regularly on CNBC, but he’s certainly regularly on MSNBC,” Bartiromo says. “Look, I think everyone deserves a comeback… Look at what happened to [convicted felon/junk bond king] Mike Milken. He’s done such great work [with cancer charities] and he actually has made a tremendous comeback. Eliot Spitzer is trying to make his own comeback—and why shouldn’t he?”
Bartiromo started out 20 years ago at CNN, working for Lou Dobbs, and in 1993 was stolen away and turned into an on-air personality by Roger Ailes, who was then building CNBC as a fledgling financial network. Now that Ailes is running Fox News and the Fox Business Network, CNBC’s ostensible competition, Bartiromo has nothing but praise for him. “I think Roger is terrific. I think Roger is brilliant,” she says, adding that Fox Business is “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.”
Unlike her onetime boss Dobbs, who in recent years metamorphosed from Wall Street defender to populist avenger, Bartiromo remains a creature of capitalism. She points out that she came of age during the bull market—a period of nearly uninterrupted wealth creation and stock price rises. “I am a student of euphoria,” she says.
“I believe in the free market,” she adds, explaining why she doesn’t support the idea of government caps on executive pay, even in cases where the feds have stepped in to commit taxpayer money to save recklessly run financial institutions.
Has Bartiromo, for all her success, ever experienced failure?
“Of course I’ve had tons of stumbles and learned from them,” she says. “When you feel you’ve failed or made a big mistake, you have to know—as Jack Welch told me in the book—that there’s gonna be blood on the street. And you have to find the strength to get through it… I think success comes from failure. I believe this—that life is always gonna throw you curveballs. Just count on it. And it’s how you handle the curveball, how you catch the curveball, that builds character and strength.”
I ask her if the media controversy three years ago surrounding her corporate jet travel and relationship with dismissed Citigroup executive Todd Thomson—in which the CNBC suits stoutly defended their star anchor—was just such a character builder.
“You know, that’s not really what I’m talking about,” Bartiromo answers. “That’s sort of something I got caught up in. But sure, being in the spotlight, and having a focus on yourself—and having people talk about you and attack you—yeah, sure. You learn from it.”
“I learned that I live in a fishbowl.”
Lloyd Grove is editor at large for The Daily Beast. He is also a frequent contributor to New York magazine and was a contributing editor for Condé Nast Portfolio. He wrote a gossip column for the New York Daily News from 2003 to 2006. Prior to that, he wrote the Reliable Source column for the Washington Post, where he spent 23 years covering politics, the media, and other subjects.