October 20, 2002 Sunday
Virginia Rohan, Staff Writer
The Record (Bergen County, NJ)
A candy maker might use Forrest Gump's box of chocolates analogy. But Fox News Channel's Neil Cavuto, who has the No. 1 business program on all of cable news, thinks life is like the stock market. There are ups and downs, and you just gotta ride it all out.
"I covered the '87 stock market crash, and I can remember talking to people then who said, 'The markets will never, ever come back,'-" says Cavuto. "When you're living in those moments, it feels like it's going to last forever. The markets are like life. They go up. Things get better."
Cavuto, a Chester resident who is FNC's vice president, anchor, and managing editor of business news, walks across his Manhattan office to point out a large, framed chart that looks like a highly suspicious polygraph. "This chart shows the market from almost the beginning of the last century," says Cavuto, using his finger to trace the peaks and valleys corresponding to various historic events. "Here, we had a serious down draft during the Depression, but look. It goes up. It invariably goes up."
Cavuto's positive attitude may be a factor in the success of his "Your World With Neil Cavuto," a live one-hour show (4 p.m. weekdays) that pulls in more viewers than CNN's "Lou Dobbs Moneyline" and CNBC's venerable "Business Center." Cavuto, who emigrated from CNBC, also does "Cavuto on Business," a half-hour Saturday-morning wrap-up show (10:30 a.m.) that highlights the week's business news. His optimistic outlook has surely been a weapon, he says, in his battle against a progressive form of multiple sclerosis -- a diagnosis he received in 1997, eight years after doctors had declared him in full remission from Hodgkin's disease.
"I never forget the doctor's line. He said, 'You appear to be the unluckiest bastard on earth,'-" Cavuto says of the MS diagnosis. "But I think it comes down to attitude. Some people's crosses in life are so much heavier than mine. There's a lot I have to be very grateful about."
Cavuto's story -- like that of Fox News Channel, which is the top-rated cable news network, barely six years after its launch -- is all the more amazing, since the network, for its first six months, wasn't even carried in the nation's financial capital.
"You try telling business types you're not on in Manhattan," says Cavuto, who sent 1,000 appeal letters to CEOs, investment managers, and analysts. "A lot of times, I relied on the good graces I had been building with sources from my CNBC and NBC days. And mostly, as a favor to me, I think, they would appear, and it helped."
Ask him what a financial show has to be today to hold the public's attention, and Cavuto takes off.
"I'm not into dull. I think business news is fascinating and very entertaining, but the way it's traditionally treated is having some guy up there in a suit, pontificating, trying to look and sound important. I don't take myself that seriously."
On his show, he does "common sense" segments on a variety of issues and reads e-mails from viewers, be the messages good, bad, or "wacky."
"This isn't your father's business show," says Cavuto, who's the first to point out that he does not have the traditional voice and looks of an anchorman. "There's humor. We have entertaining guests who are not your typical Wall Street watchers.
"Many people liken the guests I've had on my show to the barroom scene in 'Star Wars,' and it's true," adds a chuckling Cavuto, who figures he already has the "brokerage crowd," and wants to draw in more women, minorities, and young people.
And so, he tries not to overwhelm people with numbers. He doesn't use jargon. And he hates sweeping generalities -- his biggest beef about coverage of any topic.
"What we try to do on this show, better on some days than on others, is to give people the balanced story," Cavuto says. "Not all CEOs are crooks, not all companies are horrible. Not all capitalism is bad, not all Democrats are spendthrifts, not all Republicans are capitalist pigs.
"People might say, 'Well, Neil, you're a bit of a Pollyanna, a cockeyed optimist,' and I plead guilty as charged, but I'd rather give you the whole story. I'm not going to not report the negative news, but I'm going to make sure as hell that I give you the positive news, 'cause there's plenty of that out there."
Cavuto, 44, thinks part of the reason he "can relate to different types of people" is that he moved around a lot growing up. Born in Westbury, N.Y., he was 8 when the family began a series of moves -- to Georgia, Florida, Connecticut, Rhode Island, western New York, Washington, D.C. -- because of his dad's job as a sales executive for American Can.
When he went to St. Bonaventure University, Cavuto planned to become a priest, but then decided, "it was just not for me." Having always been fond of telling stories, he discovered journalism.
One of his first jobs out of college was reporting for an investment magazine in Washington, D.C. It was the start of the Reagan administration, and he had "a front-row seat to see these big changes."
His two decades of financial reporting included stints at PBS' "Nightly Business Report," NBC's "Today Show" and "News at Sunrise," and CNBC, where he anchored and hosted more than three hours of business news daily.
It was at CNBC that he first worked with Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes -- who pops into Cavuto's corner office this fall day.
Ailes tells a story from their days at NBC-owned CNBC about when then-G.E. Chairman Jack Welch, their mutual boss, came on Cavuto's CNBC show but said he would not discuss a specific topic. And "boom, just like that," Ailes recalls, Cavuto went right for that topic.
"I said, 'Oh, geez. Neil, why did you pick today to get fired?'-" says Ailes, adding, "About an hour later, the phone rings, and it's Welch. and he says, 'Goddamn, that Neil's good.'-"
Ailes agrees. "The reason he's No. 1 in business news is that he's the hardest-working guy in journalism ... and he does it with a smile on his face."
Cavuto returns the compliment, praising Ailes for his matter-of-fact acceptance of his MS diagnosis.
After breaking the news to Ailes, Cavuto, who manages a staff of about 30, told his own troops.
"I told my staff, 'Look, you may notice some things. There might be some days when I'm walking with a cane or in the hospital, sporadically. I don't know where it will go ... so I just take it one day at a time.'-"
Cavuto, who has lived for nearly a decade in Chester with his wife, Mary, and 17-year-old daughter, Tara, takes a weekly dose of the drug Avonex to slow the progression of the disease and uses a treadmill to "keep those legs going." He says he has good days, bad days, and very, very bad ones.
"It's a weird type of illness," he says. "When it's very, very bad, you can't walk or, at best, you really need a cane, but when it's OK, it's OK. You live with a degree of pain and discomfort."
Cavuto neither hides nor draws attention to his illness.
"I don't think I should be a platform or a cause," Cavuto says. "The
way I can help people, hopefully, is to illustrate me trying to do my job
and doing it the best way I know how, with a smile and a joke."
© Copyright 2002 Bergen Record Corporation