“This is disgusting! And we cannot allow America’s election to be corrupted. We cannot.”
These were the words of Maria Bartiromo — a Fox News personality and voting member of NYU’s Board of Trustees — on Nov. 29, 2020, during then-President Donald Trump’s first televised interview since the election of Joseph Biden.
There was no evidence of the 2020 presidential election being corrupted. The segment was not the first Fox interview with Trump to be panned as uncritical and unserious. But it turned out to be an early sign that Bartiromo’s weekly show, “Sunday Morning Futures” — which consistently rates among the most watched in weekend cable news — would serve as a fire hose of misinformation as Trump sought to overturn the election results.
Bartiromo’s most recent “Sunday Morning Futures” broadcast to feature a lengthy interview with Trump — on July 11, 2021 — was panned by journalists, researchers and NYU faculty, drawing renewed scrutiny to the anchor’s reporting on COVID-19 treatments, the 2020 election and the Jan. 6 insurrection.
Trump falsely claimed on the July 11 episode of “Sunday Morning Futures” that social media companies “rigged” the 2020 election. Bartiromo repeatedly said “yes” as the former president falsely said he “won this election in a landslide” and that the election was “fraudulent,” “corrupt,” and “rigged.” The show also included a number of unfounded claims and conspiracy theories about the Jan. 6 insurrection, which Trump mischaracterized as “peaceful” and a “love-fest.”
Bartiromo and Trump implied — without providing any evidence — that a security guard contracted by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) may have shot the insurrectionist Ashli Babbitt, whom Bartiromo called a “wonderful woman.” Since Jan. 6, Trump has sought to sow speculation among his supporters about who killed Babbitt, since the officer’s identity has not been released by authorities.
“We’re at a particularly dangerous crossroads in Donald Trump and his supporters’ attempts to undermine the very institutions of American democracy itself,” Rick Perlstein, a journalist and historian whose work has often focused on the American right’s relationship to the media, told WSN. “The Republican Party has been evolving into an authoritarian formation … and it was really striking to me to discover that a member of NYU’s Board of Trustees seems to be a propagandist for that shift.”
A success story in broadcast journalism
Bartiromo earned her stripes as a financial reporter for CNBC, where she made history as the first person to broadcast from the floor of the New York Stock Exchange and was dubbed the “Money Honey.”
In recent years, however, she has turned to amplifying misinformation on Fox television programs. The waning of her reputation as a respected journalist has led media columnists at Institutional Investor and the Washington Post to ask, “What happened to Maria Bartiromo?”
In the late 1980s, Bartiromo was a student at NYU’s Washington Square campus. In a recent episode of the podcast Your Hometown, Bartiromo explained that she was initially an economics student, but began taking journalism classes as well after her mother encouraged her to try reporting. She double majored in journalism and economics.
In 1988, Bartiromo interned at the WMCA radio station in Manhattan, where she worked closely with the conservative talk host Barry Farber.
“[Farber] is a pretty important figure in the rise of right-wing hate radio,” Perlstein, who researched Farber for his book “Reaganland,” said. “Long before Rush Limbaugh was a national figure, there were all these right-wing radio hosts in local markets around the country. Farber was one of the pioneers.”
Then, in 1989, Bartiromo landed an internship at CNN, where she covered business news under broadcast host Lou Dobbs. Dobbs — who became Bartiromo’s colleague at Fox and has amplified right-wing conspiracy theories himself — would later be named a co-defendant along with Bartiromo in a $2.7 billion defamation lawsuit over their inaccurate coverage of the 2020 election.
In 1993, before leaving to create Fox News, then-CNBC executive Roger Ailes hired Bartiromo as a business anchor. Bartiromo’s star rose during her time at the growing network. In the late 1990s, she appeared on late-night talk shows and won the admiration of punk icon Joey Ramone, who wrote a song named for her. She broadcasted live from the floor of the NYSE on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.
In 2007, while working at CNBC, Bartiromo was the subject of a New York Times feature that questioned her close personal and financial ties to the corporate sources she interviewed on air.
Yet, her credibility as a familiar face in broadcast news remained largely intact, even after she joined Fox as a business host in 2013. The 2016 presidential election, though, changed everything for the conservative media conglomerate. Following a broader trend at Fox, Bartiromo’s coverage became more favorable towards Trump.
NYU, Bartiromo and Trump
NYU’s Board of Trustees, largely composed of ultra-wealthy finance executives, has maintained a few connections with former president Trump. One trustee — billionaire hedge fund manager John Paulson — has long counted himself among Trump’s Wall Street allies, holding a fundraising event in August 2020 that offered tickets of up to $500,000 for dinner at Paulson’s Southampton mansion. Another — BlackRock CEO Laurence Fink — reportedly advised Trump on financial policy on multiple occasions and saw a return on his investments in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention facilities and border wall construction during the Trump administration.
No trustee, however, has demonstrated their support for the former president — both before and after the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol — as publicly as Maria Bartiromo.
Like many of her peers at Fox, Bartiromo had long been criticized for “softball questions” in interviews that gave extensive airtime to Trump with little context or challenge. It was on a Fox Business program anchored by Bartiromo in 2017 that the president infamously described eating “the most beautiful piece of chocolate cake” while U.S. armed forces carried out airstrikes in Syria. Trump told Bartiromo he was telling her the story “only because you’ve treated me so good for so long.”
But as time went on, the stakes of this pro-Trump coverage were heightened. Trump began to show alarming signs that he would not accept the results of the 2020 election. On Jan. 6, 2021, the nation witnessed the outcome of Trump’s desire to remain in office when a far-right mob, incited by Trump, violently stormed the U.S. Capitol, temporarily stopping the certification of the presidential election.
Trump has continued to falsely declare that “the 2020 presidential election, that election, the 2020 presidential election, was by far the most corrupt election in the history of our country,” saying Democrats “used COVID” to turn the results in Biden’s favor. Bartiromo and her show have been instrumental in amplifying those false claims.
“Maria Bartiromo is a disgrace to journalism and Fox is not a news organization,” MSNBC journalist Mehdi Hasan wrote on Twitter in response to the July 11 episode of “Sunday Morning Futures,” on which Trump claimed the election had been stolen. “This is reckless, dishonest, inflammatory stuff.”
In a statement to WSN, a spokesperson for Fox News defended Bartiromo’s reputation as a news broadcaster and her membership on the Board, which they requested be published in full.
“Maria Bartiromo’s prolific career fully personifies the ethos of New York University,” the statement reads. “As the first person to report from the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, Bartiromo instantly shattered glass ceilings empowering women in business, the boardroom and in finance. Her courage to seek truth and democratize information has transformed communities, including providing a global audience access to top-level research from the financial institutions, which led to the investor revolution.”
“As her coverage has expanded, her mission has remained the same and in March of 2020, she was the first to warn the nation on the severity of COVID-19, notably on the same day anchors from CNN were dismissing the then-emerging virus as relative to the flu during an upfront presentation,” the statement continues. “All the while, she’s been a proud supporter of the communities that have helped her achieve success, including New York University. Her contributions to equality and transparency are unrivaled and FOX News Media is incredibly proud of her unparalleled accomplishments.”
A report by the Center for Media Engagement at the University of Texas at Austin found that across six major national television news networks, including CNN, Fox News discussed COVID-19 less often than any other network. The researchers also found that “Fox News was, proportionally, the least likely to present correct information after the CDC released its mask-wearing guidelines.”
It’s true that, beyond serving on the Board of Trustees for at least a decade, Bartiromo has maintained engagement with NYU over the years through the Stern School of Business. In 2010 and 2011, she served as an adjunct professor, teaching a Stern course called “Global Markets & Normative Frameworks.” In 2012, she delivered the keynote address at Stern’s graduate convocation. As recently as August 2020, Bartiromo participated in a virtual speaking event with Stern dean Raghu Sundaram.
Bartiromo’s official role at NYU has not gone unnoticed by members of the community who are opposed to her support for Trump and his efforts to overturn the election. In June, Steinhardt professor Salvatore J. Fallica tweeted, “Why is Maria Bartiromo on the Board of Trustees at New York University? […] She actively works [against] democracy. How is this part of NYU’s mission?”
Rebecca Karl, a professor of history and president of NYU’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors, noted that “Bartiromo is only one of many really questionable trustees.”
“We have Trump supporters, people who supported and funded the Big Lie,” Karl said, referring to Trump’s campaign to overturn the 2020 election based on a false pretext of electoral fraud. “We have a cast of truly prominent but extraordinarily problematic human beings on our Board of Trustees, and I think it’s time that the faculty, the staff and the students are able to participate in the trustee selections.”
The aftermath of a controversial election
Following the 2020 presidential election, Bartiromo was accused of defamation after broadcasting unfounded claims about the voting technology companies Smartmatic and Dominion Voting Systems in segments with Trump lawyers Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell on several Fox shows.
Guided by lines of questioning from Bartiromo, Giuliani and Powell falsely portrayed the companies as Venezuelan-owned, communist-aligned entities that conspired to switch votes from Trump to Biden.
As a result, Bartiromo, Giuliani, Powell and two other Fox personalities were personally named as defendants in a February 2021 lawsuit filed by Smartmatic, which claims the group “engaged in a widespread disinformation campaign against Smartmatic and its election technology and software” in order to “solidify their position with viewers and readers who supported President Trump.”
“Ms. Bartiromo presents herself to readers and viewers as a provider of factual information – not opinion, rhetoric, or spin,” Smartmatic wrote in its complaint. “However, contrary to her public persona, she was one of the primary proponents and speakers for the disinformation campaign against Smartmatic.”
Bartiromo and the other co-defendants secured a New York State Supreme Court hearing on Aug. 17, where they argued for the dismissal of Smartmatic’s lawsuit. Reuters reported Aug. 17 that Judge David Cohen “appeared skeptical” of Fox’s dismissal bid — regarding unfounded assertions on Fox that Smartmatic had been banned in Texas, Judge Cohen asked attorneys, “How is that not defamatory?”
Dobbs, Bartiromo and fellow Fox host Jeanine Pirro all aired the same correction video in December 2020 featuring an election technology expert who debunked the baseless conspiracy theories about Smartmatic that the hosts had broadcasted on their shows.
Bartiromo was also named dozens of times in a lawsuit filed against Fox News by Dominion, which operated voting machines in 28 states, including battleground states where vote counts were being scrutinized from both sides of the political aisle. Fox has since contested the lawsuit and moved to dismiss it, citing that “it threatens to stifle the media’s free-speech right to inform the public about newsworthy allegations of paramount public concern.”
“Casting Dominion as the perpetrator of the fraud provided a way to explain why President Trump lost in so many States,” the company wrote in its complaint. “Bartiromo knew at the time these claims were false, or recklessly disregarded the truth.”
NYU spokespersons John Beckman and Shonna Keogan did not respond to multiple emails and calls asking when and how Maria Bartiromo joined the Board of Trustees and whether the university has any opinion on her Fox programming.
“You can’t maintain the idea of being a top-quality center of scholarship when one of your governing officers is contradicting the major professional value of scholarship, which is telling the truth,” Perlstein said. “As long as this person is officially associated with the governance of NYU, NYU is officially associated with Big Lie fascist propaganda.”
This story was updated on Aug. 26, 2021 to include additional information about the current status of Dominion Voting Systems’ lawsuit against Fox News.