Q&AA: Maria Bartiromo takes stock

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Credit: Illustration by Kirsten Ulve

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Maria Bartiromo recently had quite a week. It was, to hear the Fox Business anchor tell it, all great: She landed an interview with a sitting president—one that made news for his replies on the Supreme Court seat vacancy and Roe v. Wade, as well as immigration and the tax plan. Ratings-wise, Fox Business has now beaten CNBC in total viewers for seven consecutive quarters and, for the first time, Bartiromo's "Mornings With Maria" beat CNBC's marquee morning show, "Squawk Box," for total viewers as well.

But to hear some others tell it, Bartiromo's conversation with Donald Trump was less than stellar. NBC News dismissed the interview as "toothless." CNN's Brian Stelter said she let several outlandish claims slide unchallenged and sounded more like a "counselor" than an interrogator.

Ad Age sat down with Bartiromo to record an episode of the "Ad Lib" podcast before her interview with Trump. She discussed her evolution from a CNBC pioneer—where she was the first reporter anywhere to broadcast from the stock exchange floor—to a somewhat more ideological Fox Business headliner. We discuss her "Money Honey" nickname and industry sexism, the future of cable news, the demographics of her audience and, in a follow-up exchange, woven in below, what she made of the criticisms to that Trump interview. This Q&A has been edited and condensed.

Talk a bit about your transition from CNBC to Fox. What brought you here?

I was at CNBC 20 years and noticing that the content, in my opinion, was getting stale. We were in a new era. The internet was the place to find business information. In other words, I don't need to put the TV on and look and know what the Dow is doing.

Right, that's commoditized info, essentially.

Correct, and I'll get it from my phone. And then Roger Ailes offered me an incredible opportunity to help him build the Fox Business Network with two great shows. I started off anchoring "Opening Bell," and a year later, I took over when Don Imus left and we created "Mornings With Maria." That was a huge opportunity for me.

Cable news serves a shrinking demographic. The top-rated show at Fox Business draws something like 42,000 adults [25-54]. Where does this audience go over time, as they age up?

Well, first of all, as older viewers go out, newer viewers are coming in. But we're moving with our audience. People want more information online. I'm online all morning. I just had Alan Greenspan on and while he was talking, I was tweeting and sending out posts of what he was saying. So I'm trying to answer what viewers want in terms of TV, online and anywhere else they are because you make the right point: Cable is changing. The entire environment is changing. Even though, right now, the most advertising dollars is still in television, the growth is online.

The dollars are there because the dollars are used to being there—it's muscle memory. But eventually, as people go to the digital platforms and migrate away from cable, that's where the advertisers are ultimately going to go.

I agree, but let's not forget, people have been predicting the death of TV, of cable, for a long time, and right now, I'm seeing the numbers go up not down.

What do you make of digital upstart networks, though, that are trying to appeal to more millennial audiences, like Cheddar?

I love Cheddar. Jon Steinberg, founder of Cheddar, is doing a great job. He's a friend of mine. It's funny to see him broadcasting on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange because that's sort of my hood.

You were the first person, male or female, to broadcast from the trade floor.

When I first got down to the stock exchange, it was 5,000 people in five rooms. Now it's about 100 people, 150 people in two rooms.

Is it fair to characterize you as being slightly more political or politicized in your coverage than you were at CNBC?

Well, no. I definitely have stretched myself in terms of educating myself on what's going on today. I don't think I had an opportunity to study those things at CNBC. I was studying the stock market, balance sheets, corporations. It wasn't important at the time to study policy. Today it's the No. 1 factor driving markets. Most people don't realize how impactful policy is. I didn't know that initially.

That sounds almost naive.

Hear me out for a second. I started at CNBC in 1993. We had this empowerment of the individual investor. Then you had the dot-com boom and you had fundamentals out the window. Then you had the dot-com bust at the end of the '90s. Then, of course, Sept. 11 and the global bust, and you had this incredible debt storm taking over. Then you had the housing boom because we just assumed housing prices were going to go up, until they didn't, and then we had a housing bust. So you had all of these cycles dictating market performance. You did not hear me say Washington, because it wasn't really a factor.

Maria Bartiromo interviews President Trump.
Maria Bartiromo interviews President Trump. Credit: FoxNews via Youtube

The Daily Beast recently ran a story saying you've made an unmistakable "pivot" toward occasional "alt-right assisted Trump cheerleading." How did that land with you?

Uneventful. Obviously, this president has created constant conversation and debate about him and the way he approaches things. I definitely saw the economic policies as important and I wanted to understand them better. I learned about what the tax plan did and what the rolling back of regulations did. I wrote an op-ed about it in The Wall Street Journal and in that op-ed I said that these economic indicators are showing that we're ending the year in a great economic story. So yeah, if that's what I'm guilty of, supporting or agreeing that we needed a fiscal stimulus—for the longest time we've been talking about monetary stimulus.

You got some blowback in the mainstream press for your recent interview with Trump too, that you let some unsubstantiated claims slide. What was the goal of the interview? And was it accomplished?

Frankly, I feel great about my exclusive. As the front pages of the Financial Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal all highlighted the following Monday, we made news on a number of items.

Talk about the contentious climate of both the political and social spaces, and how that affects what you do or how you look at things.

Twenty years ago, I wrote my first book, "Use the News: How to Separate the Noise From the Investment Nuggets and Make Money in the Economy." Today, the noise is 10 times, maybe hundredfold. And so, look, I try to zero in on what's important and what's going to impact my viewers.

Do your viewers expect straight-down-the-middle reporting or a more conservative ideology that is attendant with what people view as Fox News?

After 30 years in business, I've learned a few things and I put my opinion out there on certain things. I did put my opinion out there about the economic policies. I certainly did when I wrote an op-ed. So maybe that's what you're hearing, in terms of detractors.

Diamond and Silk were on.

Well, they were on Fox News and I filled in for "Your World With Neil Cavuto." But yeah, it's a mix.

When you were starting out, you had a moniker attached to you, the Money Honey. We're standing on the other side of Harvey Weinstein and MeToo. At the time, did it make you cringe? Does it make you cringe now?

No, it never got me crazy. First of all, I was flattered just having been noticed. And by the way, nobody actually picked up the phone and said, "Hi, Money Honey." The media came up with it and they just wanted two words that rhymed. But even then, I felt fine with it.

You did have to deal with some crap, though. I mean you wrote about it.

Yeah, I did. But when you have a situation where you're first, you do take some hits. When I first got down to the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, there was a whole group of people who didn't want me there.

To what extent did people not wanting you there feed your drive? Or discourage it?

I don't go away easily. And so I went home and I studied, I made sure I knew my stuff. I figured out later that the guys on the floor, they don't really know what's going on behind the scenes. What they know is, "I have a million-share order to buy IBM. I have a million-share order to sell GE." They don't know the why. I knew the why. I'm so thrilled for women today. They're more empowered than they ever have been. And it's because of this MeToo moment, partly. Unfortunately, when you do have big situations where there's progress, some people have to take a hit.

Do you mean you?

I did take hits, frankly. Because I had—I mean one guy, Sheldon, and I wrote about this, he didn't like something I was reporting on AIG. They have metal machines that they can put orders through right from the floor. They're about five times the size of your iPhone. They're big and they're thick. He shoved it into my back while I was live on air because he didn't like what I was reporting. I had to go to medical at the New York Stock Exchange and take the next few days off because he hurt me, literally, physically. So, I mean, I didn't make a big deal about it, I just went, sucked it up, got better, went back to work.

Bartiromo at the Fighting for Freedom panel at the 2018 Forbes Women's Summit last month in New York City.
Bartiromo at the Fighting for Freedom panel at the 2018 Forbes Women's Summit last month in New York City. Credit: Nicholas Hunt /Getty

What do you make of the Fox and Disney—and AT&T-Time Warner—deals?

You're going to see a lot of media mergers this year because all of a sudden, once again, we're talking about content being king. Netflix paying $8 billion for original content has everybody else in a flutter trying to figure out what they're going to do. You've got a stock market that's just in near-record highs, money moving once again into technology. Then you've got policy, tax reform, rollback in regulations and the impact on the economy. It's fascinating. I'm having the most fun I've ever had in my career.

Even more fun than when Joey Ramone wrote the song "Maria Bartiromo" about you?

Well, now you're getting crazy. I didn't say that.

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