Every time Fox Business Network’s Maria Bartiromo interviews President Trump, which she has done five times since his inauguration, I think of an interview she conducted in 2013 when she was still at CNBC.
The subject of the conversation was JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, who was weathering a number of questions about his leadership. Journalist Alex Pareene, then at Salon, suggested that Dimon should be ousted, given that the company faced the largest fine in Wall Street history during his tenure.
"If you managed a restaurant, and it got the biggest health department fine in the history of restaurants, no one would say 'Yeah, but the restaurant’s making a lot of money. There’s only a little bit of poison in the food,'" Pareene argued.
To Bartiromo and her peers, though, that Dimon's Chase was making so much money was, in fact, reason enough that he should stay.
"Even with all of these losses, the company continues to churn out tens of billions of dollars of earnings and hundreds of billions of dollars in revenue,” Bartiromo said. “How do you criticize that?"
Pareene replied that “shady dealings” contributed to that revenue, citing a report in which the bank was caught in a potential bribery scandal in China. Bartiromo tried to cut him off.
"I don't like doing things that are not actual fact on this program because I really have a problem with that,” Bartiromo said.
Pareene suggested that it was trivial to source the stories to which he was referring. “It was in the New York Times!” he exclaimed at one point.
“Oh!” Bartiromo said, raising her hands mockingly. “The New York Times!”
Dimon survived and was recently the target of a viral exchange about pay inequity.
There are two tells in the Pareene-Bartiromo exchange that resonate now. First, that Bartiromo apparently saw ethical or legal issues as secondary to the bottom line. Second, that reporting from established outlets such as the Times was suspect if it contributed to questions about corporate behavior.
Both of these seem like a good fit for the moment.
Bartiromo’s most recent interview with Trump aired Monday on Fox Business Network. Even by the standards of Fox interviews, Bartiromo’s exchange with Trump was remarkably friendly.
"That's right, yes,” she said when Trump claimed that his family separation policy helped keep migrants from coming to the border.
“Yes,” she said when he described the asylum process. “Yes,” she said when he said he would build 400 miles of “great” wall.
"That's exactly right,” she said when Trump said migrants would come through “weak spots” in the border.
"Yes, exactly, exactly,” she said when he said he was building the wall.
“Well, that’s exactly right,” she said when he said the United States was taking as few skilled immigrants as possible.
“Wow,” she said when Trump said that the legislators responsible for existing immigration laws either “had no common sense or they hated our country.”
“Yes” and “that’s right,” she said when the president claimed that people coming to seek asylum were “rough gang members” — “you look at the guy and you wouldn’t want to fight him.” This despite the surge in migrants at the border being demonstrably a function of family arrivals.
“Yes, absolutely,” she said when Trump asked whether she thought this was the best economy in American history.
This is about half of the responses she offered. She said “yes” to Trump 14 times. Almost no claim made by Trump was challenged in any way, with the exception of his renewed assertion that he could close the border entirely. Could he do that before his new Mexico-Canada trade deal, the USMCA, was ratified, Bartiromo asked.
“I’ll do anything I have to,” Trump replied,” because this to me is more important than USMCA."
Bartiromo had no further questions about the president saying he'd do anything he had to.
About the only point at which she confronted the president was when she was trying to wrap up the interview, but he wanted to keep talking. She’d asked Trump to identify the most important question that Attorney General William P. Barr should be asked if he testifies before Congress this week. She was teeing him up to talk about the Russia investigation — but little did she know how much he had to say.
Trump has always liked telephone interviews (as this one was), in part because it allows him to keep talking as long as he wants. It’s much harder to interject when someone’s on the phone; there are no visual cues that can be used to signal that you’re running up against a time limit. So Bartiromo was stuck nodding and trying to cut off the president of the United States.
This has happened before. In October, a lengthy interview with “Fox & Friends” ended only after the hosts hinted that maybe the president had other things to do. It’s not generally a sign that an interview is holding someone’s feet to the fire when you have to try to get them to stop talking.
Notice how this Trump interview mirrors that 2013 exchange. The economy is the best in U.S. history, Bartiromo agreed, and, as she might have said six years ago, how do you criticize that? Sure, there are reports that conflict with Trump’s assertions about migration and the wall and the economy. But those reports come from inconvenient places such as [raises hands mockingly] The Washington Post.
Bartiromo’s willingness to give Trump a pass is undoubtedly why she has gotten to interview him five times since 2017, more often than many major networks have interviewed him in total. It might be worth risking future interviews to make better use of her time with him. Just as it might have been useful to look a bit more critically at Jamie Dimon.