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Friday, March 13, 2009

Stewart v. Cramer IV--The Final Chapter

by Jay Allbritton
I just watched Jon Stewart's interview of Jim Cramer from Thursday night. It was interesting to have an extra two days to build this thing up in my mind, as I read several commentaries on it. By the time I sat down this morning to watch it, I didn't even want to anymore because the whole thing seemed so overblown. Of course, I did my part to overblow it by blogging about all three Daily Show clips (part I, part II and part III) about CNBC and Cramer before this one. I'm not one to leave a story hanging, so...

After having seen it, I am prepared to argue that the fact that it's overblown shouldn't stop those who haven't seen this from watching. Not surprisingly, Jon Stewart does a magnificent job of clarifying a major problem that the financial channels represent. That being the question of who's side these TV personalities are on. Even if they are more entertainers than reporters, as Jim Cramer clearly is more of an entertainer, there's still a moral imperative for them to, at the very least, not be complicit in covering the asses of the people robbing the general public while their station runs ads touting them as experts who have your back in a crisis.

Stewart argues that these TV personalities ignored their obligations because they saw their audience as the Wall Street insiders rather that the victimized masses with 401Ks. 

To that I would add Cenk Uygur's point that a huge part of the reason CNBC lacks any journalistic credibility is because, like the rest of the mainstream media, it values access above all else. He writes:
The real problem [with CNBC] is their reporting -- or lack thereof. The CNBC reporters and anchors make the Bush press corps look like draconian inquisitors. They are obsessed with access. This is a problem with all of the media, and something Jon Stewart points out all the time. But it is particularly acute at CNBC (and all other business news channels).
Meanwhile, a lot of commentators are playing the part of balance monkeys, very eager to point out how Stewart and Cramer are the same. On a lot of levels perhaps they are, but not when it comes to access. 

Of course, Stewart has melted in the luminous presence of John McCain, John Kerry and Bill Clinton on numerous occasions, but there's no doubt that when it comes to weighing access against integrity Stewart is light years ahead of the rest of the media. 

I would love to see the tenacious Stewart from Thursday night hold the position that Tim Ruseert held prior to his death--inquisitor-in-chief. That is a separate title from host of Meet the Press. Stewart need not jump into David Gregory's chair to get that job.  But he will have to leave Comedy behind because, unfortunately, the power players in politics will never see The Daily Show as a place they must go to attain legitimacy. Still, I can imagine Stewart going after even the likes of my beloved President Obama--who I still think is doing a tremendous job--and asking honest, tough, and penetrating questions and getting serious, perhaps even satisfying, answers.  Not to mention what Stewart could do to the likes of Bobby Jindal or Sarah Palin in a fifteen minute interview.

Cramer should get some credit for going anywhere near Stewart. He was either too brave for his own good or too dumb. Cramer's promise to do a more responsible show sounds empty. Not because he doesn't have good intentions--now. But rather, because he lacks the ability to that kind of journalism. 

I also agree with Stewart's assertion that Cramer should not be the public face of this fiasco. It was Rick Santelli's insane performance on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, where the ranting CNBC host blasted Obama for bailing out "loser" mortgage holders, that touched off Stewart's first "attack" on the night Santelli decided not to go on the show.  Stewart maintains that he was going to play the same material even if Santelli had appeared.  In retrospect, it looks like Cramer wound up taking the fire Stewart had intended for Santelli.

Digby has the response to the interview Cramer posted to his pay-to-read blog, where Cramer is all over the place--from Obama's biggest cheerleader to a co-member of the White House's so-called enemies list with Rush Limbaugh.  She also looks at some potential lawbreaking by Cramer himself. 

On that last count, Dan Solin thinks this interview is the death knell of Cramer's career:
[W]hen [Cramer] denied the plain meaning of his 2006 interview in which he discussed highly questionable conduct he engaged in while he was a hedge fund manager, he lost the last remaining shred of his much diminished credibility.

No responsible network executive who viewed the tape of Stewart eviscerating Cramer could possibly conclude that he has any credibility as an "investment expert." His antics may entertain some but they have hurt many.

For NBC and CNBC to continue to hold Cramer out as its investment guru would be a travesty that I don't believe even they will perpetuate.

Here is a prediction I will make: Cramer will be off the air in sixty days.
Today Amanda Terkel at Think Progress has a post up about how Cramer is now facing a rebellion among his staff who are pissed that he didn't mount any kind of defense of CNBC.  She also reports that Cramer is shocked at Stewart's tone.  She also adds that Morning Joe staff was asked by NBC not to respond to Stewart.  


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