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Looking Good at CNBC (Pretty, Too)
While Burnett enjoys the grunt work of financial reporting, there are reminders that her fame now transcends CNBC. When "Squawk" co-host Mark Haines arrives on the set, he teases her about having become fodder for "The Daily Show."
"I saw the Jon Stewart thing," Haines says. "Here's the problem: If you're on his radar screen, I might be collateral damage."
"They chose to take it out of context," Burnett protests.
In this case, she had left herself open for ridicule. Asked on "Hardball" about the repeated recalls of Chinese-made toys, Burnett said: "If China were to revalue its currency, or China is to start making, say, toys that don't have lead in them or food that isn't poisonous, their costs of production are going to go up, and that means prices at Wal-Mart here in the United States are going to go up too."
On his Comedy Central show, Stewart intoned: "This is Erin Burnett for the Save the Money Foundation. Because every penny you save will help offset the cost of your child's long-term debilitating health care needs."
Burnett offers an elaborate explanation about the trade-off between price and quality and says she wasn't suggesting that kids should be given poisonous toys. "Certainly I could have said it better," she concedes.
After the Dow broke 14,000, she attracted a different kind of attention, noting on "Today" that "virtually all Americans are seeing wages rise, and unemployment is at a historic low. . . . The top 1 percent of Americans pay 30 percent of taxes in this country. The bottom 20 percent of American wage earners pay only 5 percent." On his radio show, Limbaugh said: "I want to give an 'attagirl' here to CNBC correspondent Erin Burnett, probably now ruining her career because I have praised her."
Says Burnett: "That's a sign that you're doing your job. Truth is rarely all left-wing or right-wing."
NBC executives love the Burnett buzz. "She's smart and driven and really cares, and that comes through in everything she does," says CNBC Senior Vice President Jonathan Wald. "She's not afraid to bring a strong point of view even if it's on 'Today' or 'NBC Nightly News,' where a strong point of view is not always encouraged."
Burnett grew up on a farm in Mardela Springs, on Maryland's Eastern Shore, where soybeans, corn and watermelons were grown. She once watched bulls fight outside her window after a neighboring herd wandered by. The setting was so rural that she attended an elementary school founded by her parents in nearby Salisbury.
At a Delaware boarding school, recalls John Lyons, Burnett's former history teacher, "she told me she had once written to Dan Rather and Peter Jennings, and that's what she wanted to do one day. She had an impetuous sense of humor and always had a twinkle in her eye. This kid was enthralled by ideas and never showed any sign of sweat."
Burnett majored in political economy at Williams College, where she also played field hockey. "She was a top scorer, and incredibly studious," says former teammate Melissa Winstanley. "She stood by me no matter what. I've recently gone through a divorce, and Erin is always the person I call even though we're in two different places."