Yesterday afternoon Maria Bartiromo scored a “CNBC exclusive” with Sanford Weill, the former Citigroup chairman and CEO, the news of whose departure from the banking giant in 2006 Bartiromo once broke.
Aside from its length (nearly 13 minutes), the interview was unremarkable. Bartiromo and Closing Bell co-anchor Dylan Ratigan asked Weill about an SEC investigation of Citigroup and its newly appointed CFO, Weill said Citigroup is “a phenomenal company,” and eventually he got to talk about his recent educational endeavors.
But given the scandal (which was starting to fade) over Ms. Bartiromo’s too-close-for-comfort relationship with Citigroup, it was, at the very least, an odd choice for CNBC to stick these two together for 13 minutes.
Bartiromo did nothing wrong in yesterday’s interview, and Weill no longer represents Citigroup. But the “exclusive” between the star anchor who is the public face of CNBC and the man who was the longtime public face of Citigroup breathes new life into the story, inviting it to linger. While Todd Thomson, one of Citigroup’s top execs, was canned (as the Wall Street Journal reported) after his “spending and friendship” with Bartiromo (“including improper use of the corporate jet — one case involving a trip from Asia with Ms. Bartiromo — and a decision to spend $5 million on a Sundance Channel program in which she would appear”) angered current Citigroup CEO Charles Prince, Bartiromo, who has been staunchly defended by CNBC, got off scot-free. CNBC has not mentioned the Bartiromo-Thomson connection on air, and as the New York Times reported, she continues to cover Citigroup.
Edward B. Colby was a writer at CJR Daily.
This strikes us as a counterproductive strategy. Damage control demands that the accused quickly address the allegations as directly and thoroughly as possible. As it is, each time Bartiromo reports on Citigroup, rightly or wrongly, the knot of questions she has not answered become newly relevant.