Friday, January 26, 2007

The Overblown Maria-on-a-Jet Brouhaha


I'm having trouble getting worked up over this whole Maria Bartiromo-Citigroup-jet brouhaha. Today the New York Times had a story on the controversy on the front of its business section -- and on a hot news day, mind you. And now I see that some people are starting to call for Maria's head.

I agree that Maria may be, well..... a bit too close to one of the companies she covers. That, however, is hardly a hanging offense in journalism and in financial journalism in particular. I railed against media puffiness in Wall Street Versus America, but what troubled me was the substance of the coverage, not the ethics of the journos.

Where's the ethical issue here? Maybe I'm missing something, but I don't see it. She flew around in a corporate jet, with the knowledge of her employer. (They were "preapproved" by CNBC, according to the Wall Street Journal.) She spoke to Citi clients, which I agree is not a great thing but, again, it was with the knowledge of her employer and is not against CNBC's ethical rules. Above all, she did not get paid for them.

There are plenty of reasons to get exercised over the financial press -- such as the puffiness (again that word) of much of the coverage, as exemplified by Maria's Business Week column. But flying around in somebody's jet, after full disclosure to one's employer, simply does not strike me as much of a sin.

I do see a possible issue in the 46 public appearances that Maria made on behalf of her employer in 2006. That's also not unprecedented, but seems a wee bit excessive. And again, where's the beef? Where's the effect on her coverage?

© 2007 Gary Weiss. All rights reserved.

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Wall Street Versus America was published by Penguin USA on April 6.
Click here for its Amazon.com listing and here for more information on the book, from my web site.

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