Monday, September 1, 2008

The money honey

I've never understood the cult attraction status of Maria Bartiromo of CNBC. She got a lot of attention during the tech stock market boom of the late '90s, when she reported from the floor of the stock exchange. Many considered her attractive, but the talk about her was more than that, it seemed to come out of an association of her with that boom.

And the buzz around her seems somewhat more muted since the subsequent tech crash, but, having paid her dues as a "real" reporter, she is now seen as a financial expert. I'm not a big respecter of financial reporters, they generally seem to have little understanding of larger trends and economics as a whole. They have access to the movers and shakers of the business world, but ask few questions designed to do more than elicit the PR firm-approved talking points.

I guess I'm confessing my bias as much as making a point, that I am less likely to find a Maria Bartiromo credible in discussing financial issues. I may not be alone; even in these times when the economy is such a hot-button issue, we rarely see her or any other financial reporter invited on the Sunday morning political shows, which seems curious.

But once in a while they do get on, as Maria did Sunday on Meet the Press (transcript here). And all that did was to confirm my view on the persipicacity of the "Money Honey." Bartiromo was on because she had just interviewed Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, and Brokaw requested her insight into Palin's views of drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. We found out that Governor Palin is in favor of it, and then we got this from Bartiromo:

I think the biggest value she brings to the ticket is her expertise in energy. This is her comfort zone. She made a very compelling case to me that the area that we're talking about that is being debated about whether or not to drill, ANWR as you mentioned, is 2,000 acres in a 20 million acre plain. This is her comfort zone, this is really what she's overseeing.

Alaska is one of the few oil-rich areas we have in this country alone. She is going to really campaign on that--on that platform, not only as energy and oil relates to the economy. We know that oil is one of the biggest issues we face when it comes to the economy. It's certainly crippled the economy over the last year, watching oil prices reach record highs. But also, as energy relates to national security. So this is a very, very important piece of the picture, and I think she brings great value there, making that point that it is a small swath of land, and it really will not impact the wildlife, as of course is the concern, because we've got caribou and bears and moose there, and the upset or the worry is that it's going to impact the breeding of the wildlife. She feels very strongly that that is not the case, and I think that that knowledge of energy is going to be very important for the McCain ticket.

This all is embarrassing enough. That the governor of Alaska is in favor of drilling wantonly in a protected reserve is no surprise, it's the business of Alaska, one of the few that still brings in money. There is a lot of controversy over whether it is really only 2000 acres, given the infrastructure that will have to be created, but drilling in the ANWR is a defensible position.

But to say that she has "expertise in energy"? Does Governor Palin understand the first thing about alternative forms of energy, about the need to start looking for ways to break our dependence on carbon-based fuels? Or does she just have expertise in how lucrative oil has been for Alaska, and wants even more of the same?

Then Tom Brokaw asked financial expert Maria Bartiromo, "Beyond energy, how conversant is she with the other big economic issues of the day, especially the liquidity crisis that this country is facing, home foreclosures?" A fair question, especially when Palin is running with a self-admitted economics moron. I'll give Bartiromo's answer in full, I just don't have the skill to excerpt it:

Well, she felt, actually, that the Republican Party has a--has a advantage when it comes to the credit card issue, when it comes to credit. She felt that Joe Biden dropped the ball on that. She talked to me a little about that in the interview. She also talked about healthcare. She had real opinions in terms of what should be done with regard to economic growth overall. And the truth is, Tom, is that energy is a big party of that. I mean, that really is one of the, one of the biggest issues we face.

On the, on the banking sector upset, he's going to need more credibility, obviously, McCain, on that issue. I don't think that she's necessarily well-versed in, in, in the liquidity crunch, but, but I think that, that she came across so strong with regard to economic matters as they relate to energy and as they relate to overall economic growth that I think it was a very savvy pick, actually. She's very accessible, very personable, as, as you've said. You know, when I was walking around, we went to the highest point in Anchorage and we walked around a field so she could show me really where the main areas were for, for drilling and you had to see her with some of the people on the ground. She, she went over to people. I mean, clearly a reporter is, is there with her, so she has an agenda there, but she was very comfortable going and, and, and welcomed by the people and, and even the people on the ground, when I was traveling there throughout Alaska. You know, one person said to me, I said, "So how's the governor doing?" to the driver of the, of the car and people on the plane and in the airport. And they said, "You know, we, we really, we love her. The first thing that she did when she got in office is she gave up the plane, the private plane, and she gave up the chefs." And she said, "Look, I don't need any of this. I want to focus on economics. I want to focus on what Alaska can do for the rest of the country."

And remember, if we were to see drilling, not only in that ANWR area, but on the coast in the North Slope, that's also a lot of job creation because there are ripple effects to drilling and she talked a lot about that as well, how we could see tremendous job creation as a result of activity in that part of the country. So clearly that is her sweet spot and that's what she is going to be focused on. I think you make a good point about the liquidity crunch, but I also have to be impressed with her knowledge on this issue of energy, one of the biggest that we face.

Yikes. Leaving aside the massive irrelevance of the answer to Tom's question, one has to marvel at how poorly this reporter, one who gets in front of a camera every day to earn her hefty salary, responded to an easily-anticipated question. This wasn't Brokaw playing gotcha with a politico, this was the usual round-table lovefest. And the best the "Money Honey" could come up with is that the people really love her. Thanks so much for the insight, Maria.

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