A Fawning “Facetime”

Debit to BizWeek and Maria Bartiromo

A Debit to BusinessWeek for lobbing softball questions at Chrysler CEO Robert L. Nardelli, in one of Maria Bartiromo’s “Facetime” interviews.

A reader, Gary Tobin, alerted us to this unfortunate piece. And Tobin summed up a few of the problems with it:

Ms. Bartiromo seems to lack even the presence of mind to be the least bit interested in obvious follow-up questions or to express any wonderment at Nardelli’s responses.

For instance, when she first asks him about ‘cash,’ he responds and then when she asks a second question, she allows him to absolutely contradict himself and say he doesn’t talk about ‘cash.’ Well, you just did.

Tobin continued:

And then she lets him claim that Jeep is a ‘crown jewel’ when consumers and the automotive trades are saying just the opposite.

And, finally, when he claims to be a ‘very caring person,’ with all evidence to the contrary, she asks nothing, either not knowing about Home Depot [where Nardelli had been CEO] or not caring to put him on the spot.

This analysis is on target and speaks for itself. We’ll just add a few things.

We know Bartiromo is well aware of Nardelli’s tenure at Home Depot, which descended into farce because we came across another of her “Facetime” interviews with him in 2006, when he was still the Home Depot CEO.

Bartiromo didn’t press Nardelli very hard on any of his answers in that interview either, but she did ask some solid questions. For instance: “The customer-friendly culture that was once a hallmark of Home Depot seems to have deteriorated on your watch. Has cutting costs at the expense of customer service backfired?” So Bartiromo certainly could have raised Nardelli’s past performance in her most recent interview.

Nardelli talks in general terms about the recent decline in demand for trucks and SUVs, but Bartiromo doesn’t push him on what exactly that means for his company. She might have mentioned, for example, Chrysler’s substantial decline in U.S. sales , which led the company to fall behind Honda in May.

As The Wall Street Journal recently pointed out, that decline is likely to continue “because Chrysler offers few small cars and those it has aren’t big sellers.”

The same WSJ piece also noted that the most recent quality survey by J.D. Power & Associates ranked Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep—all owned by Chrysler—below the industry average. Which makes us wonder why Bartiromo says that Chrysler produces “great vehicles.”

This is just one more vapid comment in a piece that our reader Tobin correctly categorizes as a “fawning interview, at best.”

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Elinore Longobardi is a Fellow and staff writer of The Audit, the business-press section of Columbia Journalism Review.