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Bartiromo-Burnett: Feud or Corporate Dust-Up?

Rumors of a <I>CNBC</I> rivalry may be more about a battle between two media conglomerates.
Author:

Is all the gossip over

CNBC

stars Maria Bartiromo and Erin Burnett about a catfight between co-anchors, or is it really about a catfight between media conglomerates?

The blogosphere is buzzing with speculation that Bartiromo, who trademarked the nickname Money Honey, is peeved about the rising star of Burnett, and the rivalry may lead one or both of them to leave the network.

Those rumors come as Rupert Murdoch's

News Corp.

(NWS.A)

prepares to launch its own business television network.

While News Corp.'s acquisition of

Wall Street Journal

publisher

Dow Jones

(DJ)

helps provide credibility to the fledgling

Fox Business Network

, analysts say the channel still has to score a Money Honey if it's going to dethrone

General Electric's

(GE) - Get Report

CNBC

. (Full disclosure:

TheStreet.com

co-founder Jim Cramer hosts "Mad Money" on

CNBC

and appears on a daily segment with Burnett.)

"Fox is starting off way behind

CNBC

in terms of distribution and name recognition," says Porter Bibb, managing partner with Mediatech Capital Partners. "They're going to have to be oriented towards retail investors if they're going to make any dent, and Maria Bartiromo is one of the most recognizable names on

CNBC

, so it makes sense to go after her."

On-air personality Liz Claman has left her gig at

CNBC

, and she's now sitting out her noncompete clause with her former employer. It just happens to end on Oct. 15 -- the launch date for the

Fox Business Network

.

Also, former

CNBC

contributor Eric Bolling has made two appearances on

Fox News

, even though he has a noncompete clause with

CNBC

through February. The network has taken him to court over the contract in an effort to keep him off Fox.

Nevertheless, the ultimate coup for the new Fox channel would be to steal Burnett or Bartiromo, who has a contract with

CNBC

expiring in 2008.

"

The

Fox Business Network

is a month away from launching and they don't have anybody that is really compelling to be the face of the network," says Bibb. "Maria has her own network of relationships and she can get to people where a lot of other reporters cannot."

Most of the Internet buzz over Bartiromo and Burnett links back to pieces that have appeared recently in the gossip pages of the News Corp.-owned tabloid the

New York Post

.

Laced with sexist innuendo and loosely sourced information, the Post's Page Six series on the Money Honey and Burnett the "Street Sweetie" launched a torrent of commentary on the Web. Those rumors centered on the theme that a "catfight" is breaking out and

TheStreet Recommends

CNBC

may be losing its grip on one or both of its female stars.

All this comes after Murdoch's efforts to wrest Dow Jones from its controlling family inspired a string of examinations in

The Journal

,

The New York Times

(NYT) - Get Report

and

The New Yorker

into the mogul's record. Those stories revealed that News Corp. has a long history of manipulating the content purveyed by its media outlets to advance its business agenda, and

CNBC

spokesman Kevin Goldman suggests that this may be another example.

"It's clear to everyone why the News Corp.-owned

New York Post

is trying to manufacture something that doesn't exist," says Goldman about the so-called feud between Bartiromo and Burnett.

Asked whether the

Post's

coverage of the feud was an attempt by News Corp. to spark dissension in the ranks at its rival, a spokeswoman for the newspaper said the allegation was "unworthy of comment."

Andrew Butcher, a spokesman for News Corp., says it's a conspiracy theory invented by bloggers.

"We've got better ways to compete with

CNBC

than by coming up with plot lines like that," says Butcher.

CNBC

declined to make Burnett or Bartiromo available for comment.

In addition to personnel issues, News Corp. has to contend with Dow Jones' exclusive content-sharing contract with

CNBC

, which puts multiple

Journal

reporters on air. It remains to be seen how this will actually affect synergies between the

Fox Business Network

and Dow Jones' venerable publishing institutions.

A spokesman for Fox declined to comment on the network's plans. Murdoch said on a recent conference call that Fox will still be able to work with

The Journal

in areas outside business and financial news.

Also, News Corp. could make use of Dow Jones' online news outlet, MarketWatch, in its television efforts. The company has bought the rights to the Web address FoxMarketWatch.com, according to MarkMonitor.com.

Representatives at News Corp., Dow Jones and

CNBC

couldn't confirm whether MarketWatch is included in the

CNBC

-Dow Jones contract.

Goldman would say only that Dow Jones' content-sharing partnership with

CNBC

remains in place through 2012, despite the News Corp. acquisition, and he expects "the quality" of the partnership to continue.

"

CNBC's

focus is on being first in business worldwide," says Goldman. "

CNBC

has respect for

Fox News

and the people who work there. That being said,

CNBC

is even more confident in our growth and success and our ability to be first in business worldwide."