NEW YORK – Neil Cavuto has a sunny personality, the kind that manages to find a bright side to a crippling disease.
Yet if the business news anchor perceives any kind of slight, then watch out. As with many of his colleagues at Fox News Channel, that's when a feisty side emerges.
The people at Microsoft found out about that in June when none of their executives were available to talk about a deal with Verizon on Cavuto's show. Backed by the headline "Why not on Fox?", Cavuto protested on air and flashed telephone numbers and e-mail addresses of Microsoft representatives.
CNN learned, too, when Cavuto complained in a commentary this spring about an advertisement that touts ratings for Lou Dobbs' Moneyline telecast while ignoring Cavuto. "Just be truthful," Cavuto said. "I'm not going to fudge facts with you. I think that life's too short...."
And now so will an old friend, Ron Insana of CNBC. Asked about Insana's comments this summer that he didn't consider Cavuto's program a business show, Cavuto dismissed Insana's Business Center as a boring show for wonks.
All this at a time when Cavuto should be basking in professional triumph.
While much of the cable TV world was focused on the battle for viewers between Moneyline and Business Center, Fox's Your World with Neil Cavuto was quietly becoming a force.
This month, Your World has averaged 598,000 viewers, a 140 percent increase over August 2001. CNN's Moneyline is at 484,000 viewers and CNBC's Business Center had 307,000, according to Nielsen Media Research.
Think Cavuto noticed all those months when people pretended he didn't exist?
"Even when we were doing worse than the other two, it should have been noted," he said. "It doesn't matter if we were on at a different time. We were on at a much tougher time."
Both the CNN and CNBC shows compete at the dinner hour. Cavuto's show airs at 4 p.m. ET, a time he selected upon jumping to Fox from CNBC in 1996 because he wanted to be the first on the air after the markets closed.
CNN and CNBC tend to dismiss comparisons with Cavuto because of the different time slot. There's also a feeling that Your World has benefited from Fox's general rise -- its ratings have soared as CNBC's sank.
Insana believes the programs are trying to do different things.
"In order to survive on a general news network, some of our presumed competitors in the business world have reoriented toward more general news," the Business Center anchor said. "They're not really business news shows anymore."
Cavuto said Your World covers business stories and the stock market but tries not to turn off viewers who aren't immersed in those topics. He doesn't have a stock ticker on the screen.
"If he means that we're not a market wonk show or a boring show or a typical CNBC show, he's right," Cavuto said. "We're a general business news show that doesn't distinguish between what happens in the business world and what happens in the real world."
Insana said that Cavuto was quite passionate about CNBC's news when he was working at CNBC.
"We're not more wonkish than anybody else who is focused on the business market and economic information," he said. "Our focus is to provide that information to people -- not to water it down, not to make it lighter. We don't provide commentary."
Give these old pals a pair of boxing gloves!
Cavuto conceded that people thought he was nuts to leave CNBC. But he was tempted by the offer from Roger Ailes, Fox News Channel's chairman, to start his own show and manage his own staff.
The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks were a pivotal moment for the show, Cavuto said. Several people he interviewed as regular sources were killed at the World Trade Center, and Cavuto memorialized them on the air. He focused on their personal stories, instead of the financial impact of the tragedy.
Staying with the human element was important to viewers, he said.
"In a numbers world, it's really the human touch that counts," he said. "Viewers know we're with them. Even in a bear market, people stuck with us because they knew we're not going to pander to them, they knew we're not going to talk down to them, they knew we weren't going to hype anything. I think they trusted us."
The 43-year-old Cavuto survived Hodgkin's disease more than a decade ago. He said that experience has made him less prone to playing it safe professionally.
Shortly after starting at Fox, he received another crushing diagnosis: He has multiple sclerosis. Physically, he has his good days and his tougher ones, when walking around is difficult.
"I'd like to change the physical verdict that life gave me, but I can't," he said. "Am I going to mope or be depressed about it?"
He tries not to. He even says -- with a straight face -- that there are good things about it.
"It makes me appreciate the fight of the day to day," he said. "Some people who have this disease say it makes them passive or calm. Not me. It makes me constantly want to try to do different things. I really don't care about failing in a career. There are things much worse than that."
Fortunately for Fox, he's not failing. Nor is he antsy for change: Cavuto recently signed a five-year contract extension.