On a Sunday morning in late November, she was gearing up for another packed week, but the particular hour in front of her was much more significant than usual.
Nearly four weeks after the election, the president of the United States had granted his first interview since a defeat he refused to accept — and Bartiromo was the journalist he chose.
It seemed, fleetingly, like a fulfillment of the great expectations that the media world had for Bartiromo going back 25 years when she was a vibrant new presence in cable news, a young woman breaking barriers in financial journalism and going toe-to-toe with the corporate titans and stock-market wizards of the era, many of them men twice her age.
“Mr. President, you have said many times that this election was rigged, that there was much fraud and the facts are on your side,” Bartiromo opened. “Let’s start there. Please go through the facts. Characterize what took place.”
What followed was a nearly uninterrupted monologue propelled by the president’s baseless claims. Trump insisted that something mysterious had happened election night, when it appeared he was far ahead in key states and then suddenly was not. In fact, it was the predictable phenomenon of big-city votes taking longer to count, combined with this year’s late-counted surge of absentee ballots that surveys had long indicated would be dominated by Democrats.
Far from challenging Trump on these assertions, Bartiromo backed him up: “Then they did dumps,” she said, in the parlance of election conspiracy theorists. “Big massive dumps, in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and all over.” If anything, she seemed to buy completely into the president’s evidence-free claims of fraud that have been repeatedly rejected by federal and state officials, including many of Trump’s own allies and appointees. “This is disgusting,” she said, “and we cannot allow America’s election to be corrupted.”
Dozens of interviewers have been steamrolled by Trump’s relentless patter or caught off-guard by the sheer volume of his falsehoods. But if any of her old CNBC fans imagined that was the case for Bartiromo, the illusion was shattered last week, on the eve of the electoral college vote that formalized Joe Biden’s victory. That Sunday, she listened unquestioningly as her guest Michael Flynn, the retired general and short-term national security adviser whom Trump pardoned for lying to the FBI, said that if someone asked him on a scale of 1 to 10, who will be the next president, “I say 10, Donald Trump.” The next morning, she went on air and declared that she had “an intel source telling me that President Trump did in fact win the election.”
Bartiromo’s comment had one left-leaning journalist describing her on Twitter as “basically a North Korean news anchor now.”
“She used to be the Larry King of the business world,” mused Joe Lockhart, a former press secretary for President Bill Clinton and a paid contributor at CNN. “But I think she saw the ratings for the likes of Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity and even Lou Dobbs, and she saw that the way to survive at Fox is to go all-in for Donald Trump.” (In response, a Fox News representative pointed out that Bartiromo’s Sunday show has been No. 1 in its time slot since it debuted in 2014.)
What happened to Maria Bartiromo? She maintains she’s no MAGA die-hard — just a journalist motivated by a search for truth. Her take on Trump: “Here is this guy who comes from Queens, New York, doesn’t care what he says and who he says it to, goes into Washington to drain the swamp. . . . And I think his presence threatened some people’s viability.”
In other words, a highly relatable character for another outer-borough kid who managed to press her way into Manhattan’s moneyed corridors.
“Ever since I started covering President Trump and covering the coup and the effort to take him down, I became the enemy of the media and the activists and the mobs,” she said in an interview with The Washington Post, again echoing his language (as well as some of his hard-wired sense of grievance). “I have an edge. I mean, I stick to my guns and I’m not easily blown off.”
The past four yearshave seen the rise of several media personalities — most working for Fox — who have become strong supporters of Trump. Unlike many of the others, who came up in the wilds of talk radio or local politics, Bartiromo had the high-tone aura of a serious journalist with a serious Rolodex. Bartiromo’s show is a destination for many in the administration. But she also remains able to book CEOs across the political spectrum.
Her work ethic remains geared to the blistering pace of her days covering Wall Street, as both friend and foe will attest. On weekday mornings, she wakes up regularly at 3:30 a.m. to host a three-hour Fox Business show, “Mornings With Maria,” from 6 to 9 a.m., which competes with CNBC’s “Squawk Box,” hosted by a panel of her former colleagues. On Fridays at 9 p.m., she hosts “Maria Bartiromo’s Wall Street,” also on Fox Business. That, plus her “Sunday Morning Futures” show at 10 a.m. on Fox News, adds up to more than 16 hours of television, all carried almost single-handedly by Bartiromo. In 2019, Fox renewed her reportedly $6 million contract.
She may walk on the beach or bike after her weekday morning shows, but then she spends the rest of her day reporting. (Bartiromo resides in Manhattan but decamped to Long Island at the start of the pandemic.) “My husband says he’s going to write a book about me called ‘Telephone’ because . . . I’m constantly on the phone with sources and contacts finding out information. And so with this pandemic, that’s only deepened because now it’s, you know . . . I’m working all the time.” (Bartiromo has been married since 1999 to investor Jonathan Steinberg, son of billionaire corporate raider Saul Steinberg.)
It’s a habit she developed early. Raised in Brooklyn, Bartiromo checked coats in the family-run Rex Manor restaurant founded by her immigrant grandfather, who named the business after the ship that brought him from Salerno. She attended Long Island University’s C.W. Post campus before transferring to New York University, switching her major from business to journalism and snagging an internship at CNN.
At the fledgling cable-news network, she stayed on as a production assistant during the years it was pioneering round-the-clock coverage with the 1991 Gulf War. In 1993, Dobbs, then CNN’s president of business news, promoted her to senior producer. Financial news was a good fit for the hard-working and astute Bartiromo, but it was a backwater subject at CNN — and producing wasn’t her goal. She wanted to be on camera, so she pulled together a tape of herself and sent it to a new rival network, CNBC, where an executive named Roger Ailes hired her not long before leaving to co-found Fox News.
On air for CNBC at age 26, she soared to fame as the first reporter to broadcast from the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, channeling the voices of the traders and executives she covered. She was the public face of the network, traveling the world on promotional tours as CNBC sought international distribution and recognition. With dark hair and luminous wide-set eyes that some compared to Sophia Loren, she was dubbed the “Money Honey,” a term she trademarked. Joey Ramone wrote a song about her.
Yet she was never known for hard-hitting interviews. On the contrary, her clout grew with her network of Fortune 500 CEOs who enjoyed appearing on her show. Former colleagues at CNBC say she could be sharp-elbowed in her pursuit of the right guests, but Bartiromo attributes her success to the vow she would make to them: “You will get a fair hearing on my show, and I will let you tell me the story, and I will give you the time to communicate it,” she explained in an interview over Zoom earlier this month.
Naturally, that was the kind of interview corporate chiefs would grant. And Bartiromo seemed inclined to help them burnish their images. When Vikram Pandit abruptly stepped down as the chief executive of Citigroup in 2012 in the wake of the financial crisis that left millions of Americans enraged by banking policies, Bartiromo struck a sympathetic note, evoking Pandit’s 2009 promise to work for $1 a year until the bank regained profitability.
Multiple outlets, including CNBC, reported that Pandit was effectively forced out. In Bartiromo’s exclusive interview, Pandit said the decision to resign was his alone. Bartiromo went further.
Pandit, she argued, was probably tired of “getting bashed and bashed and bashed again by [President Obama] — by the populists. He probably said to himself: ‘Look, I’m done. They don’t want to pay me commensurate with what some of my colleagues in banking are making, I can’t work for a dollar anymore.’ . . . Again, that’s my analysis.”
Bartiromo, meanwhile, failed to note that Pandit’s $1 salary was ancient history; by then he was earning a pay package worth more than $14 million.
In 2014, after more than 20 years at CNBC, Bartiromo heard from her old boss, Ailes, who was eager to find a way to hire her at Fox. She proposed a show that would marry her business expertise with Fox’s politics-focused brand. “I was always struck by the fact that [the Sunday politics shows] never talked about the economy,” she said. Ailes loved the idea.
Neither could have anticipated that fellow New Yorker Donald Trump would come to the White House a short two years later and take control of the country’s political life.
Her hard-wired Wall Street sympathies resonated with the new administration’s economic agenda at a time when her new network home was going increasingly all-in for Trump. “Maria understands business like nobody’s business,” said Bob Nardelli, former chief executive of Chrysler and Home Depot. “She tries to bring to the forefront . . . some of the stifling policies that this administration has been able to bust through.” He pointed to the administration’s decision to slash the corporate tax rate, “one of the biggest benefits in corporate America in the last four years.”
But it soon became clear that Bartiromo’s White House cheerleading went well beyond tax policy. She was one of the few to offer her solid approval of Trump’s disastrous August 2017 news conference in which he insisted there were “some very fine people on both sides” of the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville “T[oday] @POTUS @realDonaldTrump fights back w[ith] excellent press conf[erence] & facts,” she tweeted. It was a message that startled many who knew her from her earlier career. “My friend, say it ain’t so,” replied Larry Summers, the former treasury secretary and Harvard president, wondering how “a serious person” could defend Trump on this point. “Is this you or Fox News speaking?”
Yet it was a message heard loud and clear by the White House, which has granted Bartiromo multiple interviews with Trump, most recently in August, October and November. This past year, she continued to drift from economic issues to chime in with her support of Team Trump’s favorite topics, such as questioning the origins of Robert S. Mueller III’s report and attacking the media.
Her parroting of Trump’s claims and approach to interviews has drawn critiques from other journalists. “We are meant to hold people in power accountable, which means asking tough questions,” said S.E. Cupp, a political commentator and CNN host. “The person in the highest position of power in this country is the president, and when you are giving the president a pass, that’s not journalism, it’s an infomercial.”
Bartiromo has occasionally criticized the president, as she did when he sided with Russian President Vladimir Putin over his own intelligence services at a 2018 summit in Helsinki. She called the moment “disappointing, and “probably a low point of the presidency.”
Bartiromo also broke from the president in her early coverage of the coronavirus, warning in March on air that her sources were telling her cases could reach into the hundreds of thousands in the United States in the next six months to a year. “This has not just a health impact, it has a serious economic impact. It will cut into growth,” she said at a time when Trump was saying the virus would “go away.”
In Bartiromo’s telling, it was her doubts about the Russia investigation that drew her closer to the Trump worldview. She openly criticized Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, repeatedly claiming that the origins of the investigation were politically motivated and “a coup to take him down,” as she said in an April interview with Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.).
Like many Trump allies, she speaks as though the fact that the investigation led to no criminal charges against the president means the entire enterprise was bogus from the outset. Mueller made it clear that the investigation did not exonerate Trump, citing 10 incidents in which Trump potentially obstructed the investigation, a matter that Mueller said was Congress’s responsibility to pursue.
Her conviction that the rest of the media is biased against Trump now extends to social media. Like the president, the newswoman herself has seen some of her tweets flagged by Twitter for promoting misinformation — such as the Federalist article she shared the day after the election headlined, “Yes, Democrats Are Trying To Steal The Election in Michigan, Wisconsin, And Pennsylvania,” and her following day’s evidence-free claims of “AZ poll workers forcing voters to use sharpies thereby invalidated ballots” and “4 am dumps” delivering tens of thousands of swing state votes for Biden.
She decried the media’s role in calling the election for Biden. “The media’s role is to report the facts, and I think it’s up to the electors to report on who the president is,” she said on her show long after all the major networks had called the election for Biden but before the electors voted on Dec. 14. Now that that vote has happened, Bartiromo told The Post that she acknowledges Biden as the president-elect. “That said, you still have a sitting president contesting the election, which I will cover as well. I will also ensure to cover any instances of fraud, not just for this election but for future elections.”
She’s going to have to be a bit more careful covering claims of election fraud. Bartiromo was one of several Fox hosts, including Dobbs, who were forced to air a corrective segment on their shows in response to a legal threat sent by voting technology company Smartmatic. Bartiromo was mentioned 46 times in the letter to Fox, the most of any Fox personality, largely for giving so much airtime to Trump allies Rudolph W. Giuliani and Sidney Powell.
Through a spokesperson, Bartiromo declined to comment further. But at the end of the debunking segment Sunday, Bartiromo smiled and delivered a promise: “So, that is where we stand right now. We will keep investigating.”