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Maria Bartiromo: Poster Child for Crony Capitalism

America’s "Money Honey" Does Davos

by PAM MARTENS

Looking tense and cold and a little dazed, Maria Bartiromo appears on the CNBC business channel screen in a Antarctica style parka to do her report from Davos, Switzerland where the world’s business elite have gathered at the World Economic Forum.

Ms. Bartiromo is a bit off her game because instead of reporting the news, she has become the news.

A strikingly attractive brunette nicknamed the "Money Honey" by Wall Street brokers, Ms. Bartiromo has been the subject of numerous articles in such mainstream media as the Washington Post, New York Times, and Wall Street Journal around the issue of her conflicted ties to a recently ousted Citigroup executive, Todd Thomson.

Mainstream media sees it this way: the valiant CEO of Citigroup, Chuck Prince, had to fire Mr. Thomson because he had stepped over the ethics line at Citigroup by using corporate assets to potentially influence a journalist. (Once one of these big media houses spins the story in that direction, the herd piles on, irrespective of where the facts lead.)

The real story, in my view, is that Ms. Bartiromo, a journalist, should not have been riding around on Citigroup’s private jet on speaking tours with Citigroup clients. She should not have been considering a $5 million TV show sponsorship by Citigroup while masquerading as an impartial business journalist on CNBC. (She has conducted at least 11 Citigroup interviews over a two year period.)

The real story, in my view, is that as far back as 2002, when Sandy Weill controlled Citigroup with an iron fist and Chuck Prince was his top lieutenant, Ms. Bartiromo was not sounding very much like an impartial journalist on the back jacket of "King Of Capital: Sandy Weill and the Making of Citigroup." Here’s what she said about a man who was about to explode in the news as the kingpin of one of the most corrupt businesses on Wall Street: "Sandy Weill is probably the best deal maker on the planet. He is truly one of the leading business titans of our times."

The real story is that CNBC did not can Ms. Bartiromo back in 2003 when she began an interview with Citigroup CEO Sandy Weill by announcing that she owned 1,000 shares of the company stock.

The real story is that Ms. Bartiromo is the new face of crony capitalism and the living embodiment of a corporate media that has lost its way so thoroughly that CNBC justifies Ms. Bartiromo’s actions by brushing away the conflicts as simply "source development."

The real story is that Ms. Bartiromo is, in fact, an embedded corporate reporter. She has served on so many Citigroup financed groups and speaking engagements that she has lost all sense of what journalistic integrity means. For example, in 2003, Ms. Bartiromo agreed to participate on a panel at the Business Council, a gathering of the nation’s top CEOs in Boca Raton. But there was a condition, she had to keep secret anything she heard inside the convention. She agreed.

Then there was last year’s CNBC Asia Business Leaders Awards event, jointly organized by CNBC and Citigroup. Held in Hong Kong at the Conrad Hotel, Ms. Bartiromo was one of the evening’s hosts.

Welcome to the new world order.

PAM MARTENS worked on Wall Street for 21 years; was an activist for reform during the past 10 years. She is now an independent writer living in New Hampshire. She can be reached at: Pamk741@aol.com