Looking Good at CNBC (Pretty, Too)

Burnett, who grew up on Maryland's Eastern Shore, has risen rapidly.
Burnett, who grew up on Maryland's Eastern Shore, has risen rapidly. "She's smart and driven and really cares," says CNBC Senior Vice President Jonathan Wald. (Helayne Seidman for The Washington Post)
By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 27, 2007

NEW YORK -- At 7:14 a.m. last Monday, from a narrow balcony overlooking the New York Stock Exchange, Erin Burnett told the "Today" show that the Federal Reserve had stopped the market's bleeding, "but you don't know how deep the cut is and whether the Band-Aid will be enough."

At 8:19, when MSNBC's Joe Scarborough threw her a curveball about Howard Stern's fascination with Lou Dobbs, Burnett blurted: "What Lou once did, he ate all my french fries."

Ninety minutes later, while co-hosting her CNBC morning show, Burnett ad-libbed the tease for an upcoming segment: "I guess we're having some philosophical deep thoughts. Deep thoughts, coming up on 'Squawk on the Street.' "

Less than two years after joining the business channel, Burnett is everywhere, from "NBC Nightly News" to "Hardball." She's been praised by Rush Limbaugh, mocked by Jon Stewart and ogled by Chris Matthews.

The 31-year-old is razor sharp, works crazy hours, is comfortable discussing liquidity or collateralized debt obligations -- and everyone keeps talking about her looks. Under the lights, in a smoky blue dress that matches her eyes as well as her shoes, her flowing dark hair perfectly teased, she is not exactly hard on the eyes.

"It's television, so you can't fully avoid that," Burnett says. "Once you get by that veneer, people aren't going to give you the time of day if you don't deliver the goods."

Yes, but . . .

"Do looks play a role in who gets what in television? I can't deny it. But if that's what you had to offer, you couldn't stay in that position."

The press has cast her as the new Money Honey, a kind of Maria Bartiromo 2.0, and even some of her colleagues seem mesmerized. During an MSNBC interview this month, Matthews egged her on: "Could you get a little closer to the camera? . . . Really close." When Burnett expressed puzzlement, Matthews exclaimed: "You look great! . . . No, you're beautiful. I'm just kidding. I'm just kidding. You're a knockout." Burnett now calls it "a strange moment."

Anyone who thinks Burnett is just a pretty face should watch her in action at the exchange. After arriving at her CNBC booth at 6 a.m., she is a study in multitasking: scanning the wires, tracking stocks, writing on-screen headlines, calling sources and conferring with producers both at "Squawk" and "Street Signs," the afternoon show she hosts.

On this Monday morning -- after a month in which a housing credit crisis sent the Dow plunging more than 1,100 points -- one of the big stories is Thornburg Mortgage, which announced that it had sold off a third of its $56 billion portfolio at reduced prices. Burnett, who personally books such high-profile moneymen as Donald Trump, reaches Thornburg President Larry Goldstone on his cellphone. She had already lined up an exclusive interview with Goldstone but wants his take before she goes on the air.

"Why should I see this as a good thing rather than a bad thing?" Burnett asks, scribbling notes with her left hand.

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