The host of Fox Business Network’s “Follow The Money” talks with Managing Editor Leslie Stone about his former life in pro sports, the excitement of the trading floor and how he broke into financial journalism.
Eric Bolling’s TV career began quite by accident. “Oil had started climbing to $50 a barrel for the first time, and CNBC had a camera on the NYMEX (New York Mercantile Exchange) trading floor. I was all caught up in the excitement when one of their reporters tapped me on the shoulder and asked if I’d give him a few minutes about what was going on in the oil pits,” Bolling says. The network liked what they saw and he soon found himself doing a weekly segment from the trading floor. “About a year into that someone from CNBC called and said they were planning a new show and asked if I’d like to become involved. They needed someone right then and there and they grabbed me. ‘Fast Money’ debuted in June 2006 and is still on the air today.”
Opportunist: Was it difficult to go from commodities trader to TV personality virtually overnight?
Eric: I had to contemplate should I stay in the trading world or make the leap over to full-time TV? It was a tough call because I was at the top of my game and both are fantastic career opportunities. Trading was great — it got me here — but you cannot be a full-time trader and do financial TV. It’s a conflict of interest, among other things.
Opportunist: You’re known for your “take-no-prisoners” approach to public figures. Why are you so hard on them?
Eric: (Laughs) “Political hack” is what some people call me, but I love it. I grew up in Chicago, where everything you do is tied to city hall. It’s part of my DNA. I live for the politics, and I’m not afraid to ask a congressperson from either side of the aisle to throw away the talking points and tackle what’s really going on. I don’t hold back, so they usually get mad and spill their guts.
Opportunist: How do you handle guests who skirt the issues or refuse to answer your questions?
Eric: Keep asking and call them out! Politicians hate to be called out on air — even those who see things exactly as I do. I’ll say, “Hey senator or congressman, you just said you want to cut the deficit but you’ve given me no examples of how you’re going to do it. If you’re on TV telling me you are going to cut the deficit, you need to tell me how. Sometimes they will come up with something and sometimes they won’t.
We do a segment every Tuesday night with the mayor of Lansing, Mich. He’s very union-friendly and pro-autoworkers and steel workers. Our discussions get very heated and intense. We just go at it! He blames Wall Street, and I blame the unions.
Opportunist: Has anyone ever been apprehensive about appearing on your show?
Eric: Frankly, yes, there are several instances where we tried to book a guest for a second round and when the people handling their schedule realized it was my show they declined because it was too hard the first time. Maybe that’s why I take heat — for being too tough or obnoxious — but as long as we get the information out, that’s all good.
Opportunist: What was your most exciting moment in broadcast?
Eric: I had the opportunity to sit down with Jesse Ventura, former governor of Minnesota, to talk about conspiracy theories. Suddenly, the conversation took a left-hand turn toward 9/11, and he jumped into the U.S. government being behind the attacks. He pulled out a picture and said it was faked! I said, “Governor, you’re out of your mind. I was in the World Trade Center for both (1993 and 2001) and I watched a plane fly into the building with my own two eyes.” He stood up, shaking, with his eyes blaring. It was so intense that he wanted to take me down in a wrestling hold!
Whenever they tap me to fill in for Bill O’Reilly, the intensity of being “in the zone” is incomparable to anything I’ve ever done — in a good way. It’s like being up to bat with bases loaded, two outs, bottom of the ninth and the pitchers throwing 100-mile fastballs at you!
Opportunist: What prompted your move from CNBC’s “Fast Money” to the Fox Business Network?
Eric: When I would come home at 10 o’clock at night my 7-year-old son would be in tears, crying “Daddy why aren’t you ever here anymore?” So, I asked CNBC to move the show to an earlier time. They said they would but, in the meantime, Mr. Ailes (from Fox) came by and said they were launching a new network and offered me an opportunity to host a show called “Happy Hour.” Three weeks later, CNBC announced the show’s move to 5 p.m., but I had already given Fox my word.
Opportunist: Was it odd to compete with your former show in the same time slot?
Eric: It was definitely interesting to go up against a show that I developed at CNBC. One of my first duties at Fox was to fill in for Neil Cavuto. It was right before the 2008 presidential election cycle, when candidates were still picking running mates, and I interviewed Sarah Palin, then-governor of Alaska. We talked oil, and it was a great interview. Two days later, she was named McCain’s running mate. The media used that segment as a go-to interview to see if there was any hint of her becoming a candidate for vice president.
Opportunist: Tell us about a typical day working on “Follow The Money.”
Eric: We put the show together from the crack of dawn right up until show time. At 9 o’clock every morning we hold an editorial meeting to discuss what we’re going to air, and then we sit in the newsroom and tweak it. By 2 o’clock we lock the show down with what we like and then we tape it. Hopefully, everything turns out the way we expected. But we always ask, “What can we do better?” As a panel show, it’s unique because the panelists are there for the full hour. They help me weigh in on all the issues — the economy, elections, taxes or whatever. Even if it’s not their expertise I want to hear what they have to say. The show is a 24/7 commitment, just like trading. Something may happen overnight or on the weekend that I need to know. I can be at a cocktail party on a Saturday night and my Blackberry will start buzzing with news, but I thrive on it.
Opportunist: Who is the most impressive person you’ve met?
Eric: One of the most interesting interviews I’ve done was with Donald Trump. He’s a walking sound bite, and I admire him for having the nerve to actually say what the rest of us are thinking. Love him or hate him, you’ve got to respect where he’s coming from. He would be a great presidential candidate.
Opportunist: Have you met Rupert Murdoch? How involved is he with Fox?
Eric: Yes, I’ve met Mr. Murdoch a few times. I’m up on the 12th floor, though, and all the intricate corporate stuff takes place on other floors.
Opportunist: Who was your most enjoyable interview and why?
Eric: Honestly, they’re all great. I’m fortunate to meet so many lawmakers and politicians and titans of business. Dr. Phil is fun and interesting. And, no, he didn’t try to analyze me. (Laughs) He surprises me with how tuned-in he is to the politics of today. He breaks things down to where the rubber meets the road, with real-world examples of how tough economic times are affecting the average person.
Opportunist: How did you land a professional baseball contract?
Eric: I was drafted out of Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla. Rollins is a baseball powerhouse and a recruiter school to the scouts. My senior year I was playing third base when the Pittsburgh Pirates came down to dedicate our new stadium. During the second inning, I hit a homerun off their starting pitcher. It was a fantastic moment for me and probably the worst for him, to have some college kid show him up like that. Duke University had awarded me a fellowship to its School of Public Policy but I opted to play professional baseball instead.
Opportunist: Tell us about life in professional sports.
Eric: It was tough. We got $400 a week plus room and board. There wasn’t much going on in Pirate City (Bradenton, Fla). We’d basically hang out at the local mall with our Pirates jacket on. And we shared a bus with the Braves that we had to push-start for a good portion of the season. Someone would jump into the driver’s seat and pop the clutch while a few of us pushed it. Then we’d jump in and go.
You’re there because you love something. I couldn’t imagine doing anything if my heart wasn’t in it. The same formula works for baseball, trading and TV. You have to start out with a total commitment to the cause. I’m all in because there are a hundred thousand Little Leaguers trying to fill one spot.
Opportunist: How did you go from baseball to commodities trading?
Eric: I blew a rotator cuff in my second year with the Pirates and had to look for a job. Mobil Oil was the first one that came along. The father of my girlfriend at the time was in the oil trading business, and I asked him to help me get in and we kind of bumped around with that. Then I landed on the NYMEX (New York Mercantile Exchange), where I spent about 17 years as a board member, specializing in natural gas, crude oil, gold, and other commodities.
Opportunist: It’s been reported that you account for up to 5 percent of total volume in the natural gas futures floor. How do you accomplish that?
Eric: It’s tough. Trading isn’t for the weak or those who can’t stomach risks or make a total commitment. If it were easy everyone would do it. It’s a 24-hour business. When you get that phone call at 3 o’clock in the morning that says “get up and check the screen,” you better be willing to wake up and see what’s happening in oil. People who succeed study hard and take risks.
Opportunist: Do you have any advice for aspiring broadcast journalists?
Eric: It’s very competitive, but if you love it and it gets your blood flowing, stay with it. Today, networks are using more business people on opinion shows and news shows. It’s a long, hard fight but I enjoy it. Like anything else — baseball or any pro sports career — there are plenty of “coaches” who say you can’t do it. So, you have to be the one who persists and doesn’t quit.
Opportunist: What’s next for you Eric?
Eric: When I’m done with this, I’m going to be the Energy Secretary to any future administration. (Laughs) I am laughing — but not really. Frankly, neither the right nor the left is ready to attack the issues. A $33 billion spending cut is a deck chair off the Titanic when we have a $14 trillion debt that’s going to sink this ship. It’s insulting to anyone with intelligence.
Opportunist: Do you see the United States moving to green, renewable energy?
Eric: In the distant future. We can’t put all our eggs in the green agenda basket. We are wasting our time on windmills and biofuels from switch grass. I’d like to see us safely and efficiently embrace nuclear energy. And we really shouldn’t be figuring out ways for Brazil to drill oil so we can buy from them instead of Saudi Arabia. We have more oil than Saudi Arabia, so why are we buying Brazilian or Venezuelan oil? Our policy should be 100 percent focused on domestic energy production. The environmental lobby wields a lot of votes at the expense of mainstream America. At some point we’re going to have to say, “Sorry environmentalists” and focus on drilling our own oil.
Opportunist: Do you have faith in the future of electric automobiles?
Eric: The consumer isn’t ready for the electric vehicle. Case in point: GM was expecting to deliver 10,000 Chevy Volts in its first year but only delivered 600 or 700 within two months. They will never meet their projection. What’s so green about a Chevy Volt anyway? Electricity comes from coal. Come on, give me a break. Let’s put it this way, you sure can’t install a windmill on a Ford F-150 and expect to drive it across town.
Opportunist: Do you believe the recent disaster in Japan will have a long-term negative impact on the nuclear industry?
Eric: There was already a lot of negativity being slapped on the nuclear industry. It doesn’t deserve that. It’s the safest, cleanest and cheapest form of energy in the world and we should be embracing it rather than running away from it. It’s the answer. The United States currently operates at about 18 percent nuclear power whereas France is 80 percent and other European countries are 50 percent. It would take pressure off oil and ease prices at the pump and the grocery aisle, and yet no one seems to want to embrace it.
Opportunist: Thank you so much for agreeing to talk with us. We wish you continued success.
Eric: My pleasure. By the way, please tell Roy Meadows, my finance professor at Rollins College (and Opportunist magazine’s co-founder), that I learned more from him in one semester than I did in all my years of college.
Leslie Stone is an award-winning writer/editor with more than two decades of experience covering business, finance and lifestyle issues for newspapers, magazines and online publications.