Maria Bartiromo is one of the few personalities on CNBC with some brains and some talent. I have often admired how she manages to ask tough, thoughtful questions of corporate execs and get them to like it.
So Jon Friedman of Dow Jones
has managed to concoct what looks to me like a pseudoscandal peripherally involving Bartiromo.
The basic issue, according to Friedman is that "Todd Thomson, the head of Citigroup's wealth-management division, exited at a time when the financial company's stock price has lagged that of its rivals and the management has been widely criticized for failing to rein in expenses.
On Wednesday, the Wall Street Journal's page-one story noted that Thomson used more than $5 million from his department's marketing budget to sponsor a new TV show for the Sundance Channel. The program's hosts were scheduled to include actor/director Robert Redford and Bartiromo.
...the Journal said the embattled and 'angry' Citigroup CEO Charles Prince told directors that the expense was one of Thomson's lapses of judgment -- 'from improper use of Citigroup's jet to ... spending Citigroup money on functions featuring Ms. Bartiromo.'
But Friedman goes way beyond there.
"Has anyone noticed how CNBC has covered The Story? And you couldn't blame anybody for smirking. Actually, they meant: Has anyone noticed how CNBC has NOT covered The Story (smirk, smirk)...This saga goes beyond being titillating gossip... CNBC's neglect seems like something of a scandal in itself....Bartiromo has worked hard to defuse her sex-kitten image. "
This sounds to me as if Friedman is trying to imply that there's a sexual relationship between Bartiromo and Thompson. If that read is correct, it would be particularly scummy because it sounds as if the facts contradict it:
"Officials at the company maintain the network and Bartiromo have done nothing wrong. They don't want to inflame a touchy situation by dignifying what insiders describe as scurrilous rumors."
Scurrilous rumors like the one Friedman is trying to stoke.
From an ethical standpoint, Thomson may have been trying to buy influence at CNBC by giving Bartiromo a ride on the Citigroup jet and by sponsoring a show that Bartiromo would co-host. Bartiromo would have been wise to decline the former, but-- as the Republican Congress demonstrated--it's in an ethical gray zone. The latter is normal business. And Thomson's boss Chuck Prince is probably a mostly interested into deflecting attention away from his own performance onto subordinates. Word is his days are numbered.
I don't think this story would pass the laugh test if it involved a man.
You tell me.