Five Questions for CNBC's Erin Burnett
CBNC's Erin Burnett has become one of the faces of the current financial crisis, thanks to her seemingly omnipresent perch on the business network, anchoring two daily shows and doing live standups from Washington.
Burnett, 32, helms CBNC's daily "Street Signs" afternoon show and co-anchors "Squawk On the Street" with Mark Haines each morning, carrying on an easy patter with her older, acerbic partner.
Media critics (typically male, typically without enough to do) love to speculate whether Burnett is being groomed to be the successor to CNBC's Maria Bartiromo. (Funny how no one ever speculates whether Dylan Ratigan is being groomed to replace Haines, or any other male CNBC personality.)
Burnett, a native of Maryland's Eastern Shore, began her career as an investment analyst at Goldman, Sachs & Co. before getting into television with the help of CNN's Willow Bay. Burnett admired Bay and wrote her a letter. Bay invited her in, offered her a job and a TV career was born.
We called up Burnett to ask her Five Questions (with sub-questions) about the current crisis. (And, no, none of them involved the phrase "Maria 2.0.")
1. How do you get your information when you're live on-air? Have you gotten a chip implanted in your head yet?
Burnett: (Laughs) People are always talking in your ear (through an earpiece). They jump in while I'm on-air, "Hey, we have this person and they have news on X or Y." I make calls and get e-mails during breaks. I watch the wires (that come up on a screen in front of her) and I keep a list of things I carry around with me, things that I'm watching so I report comparative information as fast as I possibly can, like the commercial paper numbers from last week. Barney Frank once called while I was on-air.
2. Has Washington helped or hurt the crisis?
Burnett: I think the stereotypical answer is that Washington hurt everything by not passing the [bailout] bill the first time and embarrassing the country, but when you think about it, it's more complex. One of the positives to what happened in Washington, as messy as it is and as ugly as it can be, the democratic process worked. On Wall Street, people who never follow the political process said that Barney Frank understood the process here.
2a. That reminds us of a joke: It is said that people who run the world read the Wall Street Journal. People who think they run the world read The Washington Post. There's a disconnect between Wall Street and Washington, isn't there?
Burnett: Yes, there's a real sense that obviously Washington is relevant...but Wall Street operates usually, and has over the past several years, on its own.
3. Have you looked at your 401(k)? Have you juggled your investments in response to this crisis?
Burnett: I have not readjusted my portfolio. One of the main reasons is I've not had time to do it -- I'm at work 18 hours per day. I have diversified my money. I can't own individual stocks so my money is in index funds. I haven't moved it.
4. Are you having fun? What's your day like?
Burnett: I am definitely having fun. It's like running on empty -- I am exhausted, but it's what we're in this business to do. There's a great responsibility and an honor in telling this story minute-by-minute. Very rarely does a story move as quickly as this one. My day usually begins at 6 a.m. Last night, I got home at 9. Tonight, I'll get home at 10. I eat in the car.
5. Do a little media self-criticism here: Describe the CNBC Effect. It is hard not to note anchors saying things like, "We need this bill." The network has been characterized as cheerleading for, rather than covering, Wall Street.
Burnett: I've heard the criticisms, but I don't think cheerleading is accurate. It's our job to report what we're hearing and what the facts are and what the sentiment is. We played an education role on what the bill was and why Wall Street wanted the bill. In one week, the world literally fell apart....and that was the sentiment being expressed by most people on this network.
Burnett said one best things about her job is that CNBC's parent company, GE, owns several other networks, including NBC and MSNBC, where she has appeared during the current crisis.
We told her, "They're probably figuring out a way to get you on the Sci-Fi channel," which also is owned by GE.
"If that happens," she said, "then you'll know it's gone on too long."
-- Frank Ahrens
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