Credibility gap

Who would have ever thought that the event that would finally discredit CNBC once and for all would be a sex scandal?

Oops, did I say sex scandal?  Actually, we have no concrete evidence that star anchor Maria Bartiromo "discussed Ugandan relations" with Citigroup executive Todd Thomson — a matter deliciously dissected by this journalist's favorite media critic, Jack Shafer at Slate.

But if it weren't for the intimation of intimacy, I doubt the conflict of interest involving an anchor flying in Citigroup's corporate jet would be getting anywhere near the buzz that it is.  And this is a very good thing for those of us who were sorely disappointed that CNBC's credibility was only damaged and not destroyed by its utterly irresponsible feeding and fueling of the tech bubble.

And believe you me, CNBC is in trouble, witness Jon Friedman's scathing column at Marketwatch:

CNBC's efforts to defend its star anchor Maria Bartiromo would be downright comical if the network's arguments didn't seem so pathetic. CNBC is now paying a stiff public-relations price for building a celebrity culture around Bartiromo.

Hoping to market a legitimate media star, CNBC instead has created a diva.

Intending to control the public-relations damage to its journalistic image, the network instead has become a laughingstock.

Ouch.  The Bartiromo episode is the occasion for Friedman to note some of CNBC's other misdeeds — not related to the tech bubble — over the years.

CNBC routinely has reinvented financial journalism to fit its needs throughout the years. It used to give GE Chairman Jack Welch access to the network seemingly anytime he needed to publicize something.

Plus, CNBC plays fast and loose with the concept of "scoops," too. On Jan. 19, it sent out a press release saying: "In a exclusive interview, GE Chairman and CEO Jeff Immelt says GE is done making strategic deals for now." (Gee, it must've been positively Herculean to get Immelt, whose company owns CNBC, to give up that "exclusive.")

Notably, CNBC has allowed Jim Cramer to teeter over the edge in the role of a standard newsman to become a vaudevillian entertainer during his show, "Mad Money."

Cramer was never a "standard newsman," and he's had his own conflict-of-interest issues over the years, but we'll leave that discussion for another time.

Anyway, CNBC appears to be getting its comeuppance, and not a moment too soon.  That's the good news.  The bad news is that it gives an opening to a new Fox Business Channel, where Neil Cavuto and Co. will have a 24-hour platform to try to convince America's investing lumpen that perpetual war is just great for the economy.  (See Rep. Ron Paul's latest for a concise antidote to that nostrum.)