Neil Cavuto: Fox's High Priest of Business Journalism
Neil Cavuto has been at Fox News Channel since its beginning in 1996, as anchor and
managing editor of business news, and now with the additional title of senior VP of both Fox News and spinoff Fox Business Network. He also hosts programs on both channels.
A graduate of St. Bonaventure University and a White House intern during the Carter administration, Cavuto holds a master's degree from American University. After stints at Investment Age and ESPN’s “Business Times,” Cavuto joined PBS’ “Nightly Business Report” in 1984, as the New York bureau chief, and jumped to CNBC in 1989 as an anchor of three hours of programming daily, before heading to Fox.
In his 2004 book “More Than Money,” Cavuto wrote about surviving cancer and his diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. He recently discussed his career in business journalism with NewsPro correspondent Elizabeth Jensen.*
NewsPro: I read that you initially planned to become a priest. Was that a serious goal, and how did you make the leap from that to business journalism? And are there any parallels in the careers?
Neil Cavuto: I know it sounds weird but it’s true. The biggest goal was maybe to be a priest teaching journalism. … I did commit to doing that when I went off to college; I just didn’t have my heart in it, and then I met my wife. I still think a background and education in theology is very good; I think it gives you a different perspective. Encountering illness myself … I gleaned a deeper appreciation of not just the deeper vagaries of life, of learning that things come and go; it gave me a very big perspective on things. I’ve learned that history does repeat itself and we have been here, done that. I am grateful for all those experiences and background and I think it gives me a very unique perspective on life.
NewsPro: The mid-1980s [and] 1990s were a heady time to be in business journalism, as the world discovered these larger-than-life characters doing mind-boggling deals, sometimes breaking the rules. Then of course CNBC came along, now Fox Business Network, and it’s no longer an under-covered beat. Has that taken some of the fun out of it?
Cavuto: When I started out in this, I had a lot of friends of mine who gravitated to sexier beats, who were jazzed about crime reporting or politics. … Here I was the little numbers nerd who could tell you where the money supply was on any day. [Then, with the Reagan tax cuts, the stock market boom and the democratization of Wall Street] all of a sudden I was the coolest kid in the room. I really loved it. One thing I have discovered is, I’m not so unique any more. [But] I hope it’s that perspective, that sense of history, maybe, that comes with a few of these gray hairs that gives me a better sense of where we’ve come from and where we’re going.
NewsPro: Viewer interest in business television tends to go up with the market, and down with it as well; consumer viewers just don’t want to be reminded of their losses. By that measure, Fox Business Network launched at maybe the worst possible time, given the financial crisis of the last year, and the ratings that have been released have been quite low. How have you had to adjust expectations or recalibrate the network’s programming strategy?
Cavuto: If you live and die by the markets you will probably tie your success to the markets. My goal here [working in concert with Kevin Magee and Roger Ailes] was, we wanted to step back a bit, to understand there is a difference between markets and market moving. You don’t have to lead every broadcast with a tick in the Dow… I think one of the things we aim to do here is to unleash people from the view that everything wraps around Wall Street. We’ve covered relentlessly the financial crisis. … We’re about green, following people’s money, not about being red or blue. Once exposed to it, people like it. I think we are managing to do something with business that has never been done, to make it fun and engaging.
NewsPro: Young journalists sometimes shy away from business journalism because they fear having to deal with the numbers. Who makes a good business journalist?
Cavuto: [Many of today’s budding journalists] have never learned how to write, or read much more than a text message. I’m a little startled at that. They’ll come out and text-message me after meeting me. I write a handwritten note to every guest who appears on my shows. I know it’s anal and I know it’s passé, ancient, but my view is, you were nice enough to come to me. I think that contact and that personal approach is something that’s lost. Sometimes I worry about this generation, taking so many shortcuts. … Don’t be a slave to your laziness. There is no shortcut for doing homework. Natural smarts combined with a hard and good work ethic, and you’ll go far.
*Interview edited and condensed