Swapna Venugopal Ramaswamy
Rockland/Westchester Journal News
Published 11:09 AM EDT Sep 22, 2019
On a recent Friday, Maria Bartiromo, the financial television icon, offered a visitor a tour of her new corner office in the News Corporation Building in midtown Manhattan.
The office, lined with floor-to-ceiling windows, is furnished with a cognac leather sofa, chairs and a large desk.
“Isn’t it great?” she said, with a broad smile. “I’m still settling in.”
Bartiromo, who has been with Fox News and Fox Business for more than five years, extended her tenure with the networks with a multi-year deal earlier this week. (Fox did not divulge the length of the contract.)
By 10 a.m., she’d already logged four hours of on-camera work.
Bartiromo, 52, who made history as the first person to report live from the floor of the New York Stock Exchange nearly 25 years ago, is arguably one of the hardest working journalists around. As an anchor for Fox Business Network and Fox News Channel, she helms 16 hours of live programming each week and is on air six days a week.
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She’s also become a cultural icon: Joey Ramone (of The Ramones) wrote a song dedicated to her; her nickname “Money Honey” (a moniker she trademarked before letting it lapse) even spawned a range of action figures and card games. The London-based Financial Times has gushingly described her as the “Sophia Loren of financial journalism.”
Bartiromo spent nine months working on a documentary on the future of artificial intelligence, or AI, and its impact on business.
“Artificial Intelligence: The Coming Revolution,” which airs at 8 p.m. Sunday on Fox News, sheds light on how Armonk-based IBM, among others, is expanding into AI. IBM CEO Ginni Rometty tells Bartiromo that one of IBM’s biggest focus areas in AI is health care. The AI health care market is slated to expand from $2.1 billion to $36.1 billion in 2025.
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Artificial intelligence and IBM
“This is a long road, but this is one of the industries so badly in need of AI,” Rometty tells Bartiromo, who visited IBM’s headquarters in Armonk as well as the T.J. Watson Research Lab in Yorktown Heights for the special.
“It is difficult for a doctor, with the amount of data, and so we’ve been working away on Watson for health. Oncology was one of the early things we started on. We’re now at 300 hospitals in over 125,000 patients around the world where the AI has helped the doctor identify the diagnosis and the appropriate treatment.”
Last year, Mayo Clinic and IBM Watson Health unveiled results from early use of the Watson for clinical trial matching for breast cancer.
“AI is truly changing our lives,” Bartiromo said. “People think that things that are happening are little incremental gains like Siri or your Echo at home or GPS, but it’s only scratching the surface.”
Along with Rometty, Bartiromo interviewed Ford CEO James Hackett, Blackstone CEO Steve Schwarzman and billionaire tech investor Peter Thiel for the documentary. “What I came away with was this idea that we are embarking on a new era, a new revolution, very similar to where we were in the ’90s when we were embarking on the dotcom age,” Bartiromo said.
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Starting a revolution
In 1995, Bartiromo started a little revolution of her own.
A year after joining CNBC as a correspondent, she was tapped to report from the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, the first reporter to do so.
“We were starting a new show called ‘Squawk Box’ and we wanted to be different,” Bartiromo said. “The first day on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange was scary. There was a core group of people who did not want me there. They just didn’t; it was a boy’s club.”
Bartiromo had spent the previous five years as an executive producer and assignment editor with CNN Business News when she put together an audition tape to apply for an on-screen job at CNBC.
“I remember meeting Roger Ailes and some other people at CNBC and I knew that we hit it off,” she said. “I immediately went from New Jersey, where their studios were located, to New York City to buy new dresses. I had to go to bed to get up again at midnight to go back to work at CNN. And in the middle of my nap, I got a call from CNBC saying they wanted to make me an on-air reporter. This was in October 1993.”
Her then-supervisor at CNN, Lou Dobbs (who is now a colleague at Fox Business Network), was not happy.
“He said to me, ‘Maria, this is the worst decision you’re ever going to make. And I said, ‘I’m sorry, I have to follow my gut.” A year later, she was reporting from the floor.
Bartiromo, who was recruited by Ailes to join Fox in 2014, currently anchors “Mornings with Maria” and “Maria Bartiromo’s Wall Street” on Fox Business Network and “Sunday Morning Futures” on Fox News Channel. The 6-year contract came with a $6 million annual salary.
Asked for her take on Ailes, her mentor, who was forced to resign in 2016 after former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson brought a sexual harassment lawsuit against him, she said: “I never had any of those issues at all. But, obviously, after all of the things that took place, we recognize that Roger Ailes had many flaws.”
The Trump factor
It’s no secret that President Trump thinks of Bartiromo as a friendly interviewer. He’s had four sit-down interviews with her. In June, he also called in to her Fox Business show for a lengthy phone interview that was widely described as “unhinged.”
Asked why she thinks the president reaches out to her more frequently than others, she said:
“I can only speculate that the president knows that I get to business and don’t focus on the things that are not important to the American people,” she said. “From my standpoint, I focus on policy, not personality. And I think much of the media focuses on his personality.”
Bartiromo pointed out that she moderated two presidential primary debates in 2016 for Fox. “Our debate came right after the CNBC debate. When I got to the debate stage, I talked about economy, I talked about jobs, wages, all the things that I think were important to the American people. Those were all the things that he was also focused on.”
Critics have called her out for not pushing back against Trump, but Bartiromo points to the interview earlier this year when she repeatedly pressed him over his attacks on John McCain.
Trump’s response: Calling Bartiromo “fake news.”
“I push back on President Trump 100% when I need to, but I’m not going to join these groups of people who hate him and have their ideologies leading their journalism. If I don’t slam him every day, I get slammed. It’s absolutely ridiculous.”
If Trump were re-elected in 2020, would she consider a post in the administration?
“No, I am not interested in leaving this industry. I love journalism. And that is my priority. I plan to continue seeking the truth and being a journalist.”
As a journalist, Bartiromo says she’s most proud of the fact that her reporting helped to “democratize” the stock market, bringing information directly to viewers.
“Every day I called all my sources on every trading desk and I said to them, ‘what are you pushing? What are you telling your clients to do’? And they would tell me, ‘we’re upgrading IBM, we’re downgrading ABC, we’re doing this or that.’ And I would go on the air with it every morning at 7 a.m., exactly when the big institutional players would get that information. I think I was part of democratizing information so that investors were on the same playing field as the institutions. That was very powerful.”
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Hard work is in her background
Bartiromo grew up in Brooklyn, the granddaughter of Italian immigrants; her father owned the Rex Manor, a restaurant in Brooklyn, which he inherited from his father.
“It was named after the Rex, the ship that brought my grandfather from Italy to America in 1919,” she said. Maria and her sister got jobs as coat check girls at the family-owned restaurant.
“My vision of my father is that he was always behind the stove, sweating with a bandanna around his head. He worked hard. My mom worked hard, too, so I have an upbringing of just watching my parents work so hard and that shaped me,” she said.
When Bartiromo was studying economics at New York University, it was her mother who suggested she give journalism a try.
“My mom said you’d be a good broadcaster. I was always a ham. I always wanted to be on camera. I was always dancing. I was a happy kid, always dancing and wanting to be on and being heard.”
And she has been.
“When I got to that floor, (of the stock exchange) I saw that they tried to push me around,” she said. “And I said, they’re not going to get me down. They’re not going to. I know this stuff better than anybody. I’m gonna own this job. I’m not going to allow them to push me around. And so that’s what happened.
Her advice for others? “I always tell this to emerging journalists and people who ask me, ‘how did you do it?’ Own your stuff. Know your stuff. You have to own your job, own your stuff so that you gain the respect that you deserve.”
Future for AI
“Artificial Intelligence: The Coming Revolution,” which airs 8 p.m.Sunday on Fox News, sheds light on how Armonk-based IBM, among others, is expanding into AI.
Maria Bartiromo, who hosts the documentary, had some takeaways:
Implications for people entering the workforce: “Kai Fu-Lee, the former president of Google China, has studied this and said that 40% of all jobs are going to be replaced (by AI) in the next 10 years. When there is a job that relies heavily on data, such as the eligibility of a person to get a mortgage, a machine can go through large sets of data very quickly. As a result, companies will adopt AI and they will cut jobs.
Predicting wildfires; spying: “At the IBM lab, I spoke with Dario Gill, the head of AI and the head of computing, who along with his team, was looking at wildfires. They were trying to get ahead of wildfires and they were looking at all the data around what causes a fire. They were looking at vegetation, they were looking at temperatures. All these things can go into a dataset and educate the computer about which forests are most vulnerable.
But it also being used for things like facial recognition. China is using facial recognition to track its citizens. And in one second, they can zoom in on your face and know exactly who you are, exactly what you’ve been doing, and then they’re giving you a score, a social score at the end of the year.”
Should we trust companies to self-police? “It’s hard to know if we can trust them. I like small government and I’m a proponent of low regulation. The fact that San Francisco banned facial recognition is illuminating because it tells you that even local governments are worried about this. So I guess there should be boundaries. There should be boundaries around AI.”
Swapna Venugopal Ramaswamy covers women and power for the USA Today Network Northeast. Write to her at email@example.com