Bartiromo relationship raises questions

CNBC host had dealings with Citigroup boss

CNBC’s Maria Bartiromo has the support of her network in response to questions, and raised eyebrows, about her professional relationship with a former Citigroup boss.

The star financial anchor has reported extensively on Citigroup, and on Todd Thomson, formerly chief of Citigroup’s wealth management unit. But last week, when Thomson was ousted, it was in part over issues of judgment, including his dealings with Bartiromo.

Questions arose about trips she took on a Citigroup corporate jet — and one she didn’t. About a year ago, Thomson was turned down when he asked for the jet to bring Bartiromo to his home near Bozeman, Mont., for a skiing vacation he was hosting for some private-banking clients, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Among other complaints, Thomson was faulted by Citigroup Chairman Charles Prince for the decision to spend $5 million to sponsor Sundance Channel programming that Bartiromo was expected to co-host. According to the Journal, Bartiromo no longer will host the project.

Since 2004, Bartiromo has aired 11 major pieces on Citigroup, including four interviews with Thomson, according to the Journal’s review of CNBC transcripts.

Michael J. Hanretta, a spokesman for Citigroup, said Thomson “has left to pursue other interests. We are not commenting beyond that.”

The succession of events has focused media scrutiny on Bartiromo, who, like any reporter, is expected not to get too close to, or accept favors from, the people and companies she covers.

On Friday CNBC said Bartiromo, 39, has done nothing improper.

“Her travel has been company-related and approved, and involved legitimate business assignments,” CNBC spokesman Kevin Goldman said. “Permission was sought, permission was granted, and reimbursement procedures were arranged for her travel on corporate jets.”

Sundance Channel executives were unavailable for comment on past talks with Bartiromo about appearing on a planned three-hour programming block devoted to environmental issues, scheduled to start in April.

On Jan. 16 — just days before Thomson was dismissed from Citigroup — one of its divisions, Smith Barney, was announced as a “co-presenting sponsor” for that programming, titled “The Green.”

Blending business savvy with star appeal, Bartiromo — who’s married to Jonathan Steinberg (son of financier Saul Steinberg) — delivered marquee value from the day she arrived at CNBC in 1993. She soon gained the nickname “Money Honey” and became the network’s face.

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