Saturday, January 27, 2007

Cozying up with The Money Honey

This week, a top Citigroup exec was fired. One reason for his ouster was his close relationship with CNBC's queen bee, Maria Bartiromo. Bartiromo was flown in Citi's corporate jets to asia ... The exec invested 5 million of CITIGROUP's MONEY(?!?) in a Sundance channel for a show Bartiromo would host... The big question is how can a journalist "objectively" cover companies with which she has close, personal and business relationships?

Bartiromo has been criticized before, for being too soft on her interviews of top executives. I think this column on MarketWatch makes the interesting point that CNBC's coverage of the Citigroup shakeup doesn't mention Bartiromo ...

CNBC erred by giving Bartiromo a free pass

There is a clear ethical issue here, not to mention a PR misjudgement. How can CNBC not cover the whole story, especially given the circumstances? The columnist suggests that the network does not want to roil the waters with Bartiromo - for fear she will jump ship to the nascent Fox business channel... I think their handling of this issue, however, has cost them more in good standing with their viewers.

Ethics in business reporting is not just a reputation issue, it's also a legal and financial issue. Bartiromo can move markets, as evidenced by her Bernanke scoop a few months ago, which, theoretically, can affect pretty much everyone's bottom line.
I do not see why Bartiromo should ever be taking corporate jets... there's just too much of a conflict of interest. The SEC and NASD don't allow brokers to take favors from bankers - there should be a similar standard for the journalist/corporation relationship.

On the one hand, you have to cultivate sources, but where do you draw the line? Although I think Bartiromo does a great job - her relationship with Citigroup certainly seems inappropriate.



At Sunday, January 28, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would love to have heard the CNBC execs' discussion of deciding not to cover the story.

And I sit here, glad to see there's ethics in business - where it's not ok for the Citigroup exec to give her jet rides or money for a show. But I wonder where the ethics in journalism went.

LT, you make so many good points about the issue. The question I have is - will this really cost the network's standing with some viewers? Is this something that's going to register on their radar?


At Sunday, January 28, 2007, Blogger Medill Media Watch said...

It has registered with some viewers - primarily because the irony is so thick. Most CNBC fans are in business. The press skewered financial institutions for mutual fund scandals, front-running customers, insider trading, and giving favors to each other for preferential treatment (all illegal for the conflict of interest reasons). So to have a business journalist receive favors from one of the largest companies out there and report on the company... it just seems hypocritical.


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