Skip to main content

Upfront and personal

Even at a time when disclosure has become as hot a topic for television as for Wall Street, it seemed an unusual revelation: Interviewing Biogen President and CEO James Mullen, Neil Cavuto, Fox News Channel anchor, managing editor and vice president of business news, informed his audience that he is a consumer of Biogen's multiple sclerosis drug, Avonex. "I have MS," he told viewers.

"It may have sounded a little weird, but I take this company's drug," he explains, talking about it now. He likens his relationship to the drug to an investment on which he spends thousands of dollars a year. "If I'm paying that kind of money, I damn well should disclose it. That's a big thing not to disclose.

"I demand this of all the business talent" at Fox News Channel. "I routinely ask, 'Do you own stock in a company? Do you have any relationship with a company?' If there is a potential conflict, let's get it out there. I'll still have to show that I can be critical of a company or ask about its competition. My view is: disclose, disclose, disclose."

Cavuto was diagnosed with an advanced case of Hodgkin's disease in the late 1980s, and he recalls that "I hid that from a lot of people and it's a big regret of mine. I avoided going to support groups; I was secretive, almost phony. When I got my MS diagnosis about a year after I came here, I was determined to be upfront about it. I realized that I owed it to other people with illnesses. I vowed to make up for the secretiveness before. I don't want the illness to define me, but I don't want people with illnesses to feel they should hide or cower."

"It's been remarkable to witness how much this guy can go through; how he's been able to confront these serious issues with an incredibly light touch and still work like a madman," says Cavuto's friend and former colleague, CNBC anchor Ron Insana. "Neil's quite committed to the content and always has been. He likes to get into an issue and play with it. He likes to be provocative. He's got more integrity than anybody I've ever encountered. He fit in well at CNBC, and he fits in well at Fox."

His friendship with Insana aside, "one of the smartest moves I ever made was when I chose not to recommit to CNBC," Cavuto says, though he is respectful of the network. "When the opportunity afforded itself, I was available. People thought I was crazy, like I was entering the witness-protection program. I was certainly getting plenty of exposure on CNBC, and I was doing NBC's Today Show."

He recalls, though, that people had thought he was crazy when he left PBS for the fledgling CNBC a few years earlier. Moreover, he says, Fox News chief Roger Ailes "afforded me a management opportunity to be much more involved in determining the business coverage than I had at CNBC.

"A lot of anchors, fairly or unfairly, are looked on with disdain; as being ignorant or being blowhards. I wanted to prove I had a little bit of depth in me. I had worked for so many managers; I thought there's got to be a better way to handle people, to treat people, to groom people. … But I felt that if I botched this, I'd have to realize that I'm not a manager."

Insana says, "At some point, everybody wants a measure of control. ... Neil wanted his. It's always interesting to be a player-coach."

Cavuto dismisses the notion, not entirely unpopular among media, that he and his network push a conservative agenda. "I make it a point on my show to balance opinions. I balance bulls with bears. For instance, I'm an advocate for the tax cut, but I'll put on someone who disagrees with it."

Cavuto believes his natural optimism helps his newscast. "People thought they could throw money into a pot and it would boil. Now everyone's mutual funds have been shot to hell," he notes. "I believe in our country, I believe in capitalism. I believe things will turn around. I'm just not smart enough to know the day and time it will happen."