About that big Jim Cramer beatdown

Jon Stewart is getting showered with praise for his showdown with CNBC’s Jim Cramer Thursday night on “The Daily Show.” The culmination of a week-long “feud” (egged on by the salivating media at large) was riveting to watch. (The video is here.) Stewart, long a savvy media critic, brutalized Cramer both for his own and the financial news network’s direct role in the economic meltdown that has vaporized untold wealth and hobbled the United States of America.

stewartcramer

If that sounds a tad overdone, well, indeed. There is plenty of truthiness in Stewart’s point. It’s easy to sift through footage from various CNBC shows and find no shortage of their hosts making wrong calls about the financial markets, cheering on suspect CEOs and exuding what in hindsight was obviously misguided optimism about the economy and the stock market. Not to mention analyst Rick Santelli’s puerile, faux-populist tirade last month about the mortgage crisis.

But there is also some intellectual dishonesty suffusing the big CNBC takedown so in vogue right now. It’s easy to level simplistic snark at the network per above. But few seem willing, Stewart included, to acknowledge what the popular financial news network is mostly about, as I wrote about here recently: daily infotainment, emphasis on tainment.

Let’s be honest, we’re all plenty hungry at present for the villains of Wall Street to be strung up in the town square. But blame-the-media is the easy way out. It’s a bit silly to assign the degree of culpability that Stewart just did to a guy who, on his daily stock picking show, bounces around detonating obnoxious sound effects and exclaiming “Booyah!” like a frat guy on meth.

Stewart has other smart thinkers in the media following right along. David Brancaccio, host and senior editor of “Now on PBS,” told CNN that Thursday night’s show marked an important moment in journalism, especially for financial reporting, and that it may serve as a cautionary tale for those in the media who would fail on due diligence. “I don’t think any financial journalist wants to be in Cramer’s position,” Brancaccio said. “I think [journalists] may redouble their efforts to be dispassionate reporters asking the tough questions.”

That’s just goofy. Jim Cramer is not a financial journalist. He’s a self-cultivated nut-job host of a popular sideshow for Wall Street wonks. His script brims with speculative investment ideas, clumsy jokes and useless if marginally entertaining financial prattle.

The truth of the matter is that while CNBC certainly is ripe to take some lumps in this new era of Great Recession, the network is the easiest of targets. It’s also worth noting that there is substantive reporting in its mix. Last month, in fact, I spent some time interviewing CNBC anchor Maria Bartiromo and correspondent Bob Pisani at the New York Stock Exchange for a forthcoming magazine article about the financial media. Mostly I found them to be informed, thoughtful and dedicated to their work as reporters. For one example, see the high marks Bartiromo got for grilling ex-Merrill Lynch CEO John Thain on her show back in January. For another, watch this recent Frontline documentary, which recounts how in spring 2008 CNBC reporter David Faber helped pull the curtain back on Bear Stearns and impacted the timing of the investment bank’s collapse.

No doubt they and others on the network also had craven moments of their own during the boom times. As did so many in American government, business and, yes, out there in TV-viewing land. A dramatic and bloody round of the blame game is quite satisfying to watch right now, especially in the able hands of Mr. Stewart, but the culpability for our economic predicament extends far, far beyond the spectacle of one television channel.

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7 comments so far

  1. carol1977 on

    As Stewart said to Cramer “its not about you.”

    Stewart’s point was that the “news” networks just parrot press releases and that there are no investigative reporters who can tell lies from news, let alone any who are capable of intellligent commentary.

  2. Mike on

    When Stewart has Chris Dodd and Barney Frank on to rip them a new one I’ll know Stewart means business and just isn’t pissed off that Obama’s been called out for leading us into a hell hole of debt.

  3. lauramcclure on

    excellent analysis. i particularly like this graf:

    “Let’s be honest, we’re all plenty hungry at present for the villains of Wall Street to be strung up in the town square. But blame-the-media is the easy way out. It’s a bit silly to assign the degree of culpability that Stewart just did to a guy who, on his daily stock picking show, bounces around detonating obnoxious sound effects and exclaiming “Booyah!” like a frat guy on meth.”

  4. Godless Heathen on

    I think you are overestimating the astuteness of the average American when you refer to CNBC as “infotainment”. If a person wanted to see a clown dance around “like a frat guy on meth,” they would watch larry the cable guy. If you ask CNBC what they think of their own coverage, their website’s title bar will tell you “Stock Market News, Business News, Financial, Earnings, World Market News and Information.” I didn’t catch “tainment” in any of those. Let’s see what “Fast Money” is talking about. Oh, Boy! “New Wave of Dealmakers * With big deals being made in big Pharma, is this a one-sector phenomenon? * This Week’s Hidden Winner” Hidden Winner? Sounds entertaining, and in no way useful to helping me make some money by playing the stock market. Don’t like Fast Money? Let’s ask Mad Money or On the Money. One last kick for this dead horse: the entire front page of CNBC.com doesn’t have the letter group “tain” anywhere, which means there are no “tainments” or “tainings” or “tained”

    It sounds to me like somebody is trying to take themselves seriously. A “serious” financial network making these claims is a lot like a “serious” news network continuing to bring up President Obama’s birth certificate weeks after the inauguration.

    PS – truthiness is Colbert, not Stewart.

  5. Sta on

    Mark, I think you’re missing an important part of this. CNBC advertises themselves as a financial network. Stewart’s point was not simply that they made wrong calls, but that they knew better, and did it anyway. He showed clips during the smackdown that demonstrated that Cramer actually has some shrewd insights into Wall Street, and he shilled for them anyway. And this during the leadup to an economic collapse that could damn near destroy the country.

    Besides which, for too long, much of journalism has slipped into the business of infotainment. That, and accepting whatever’s fed to them rather than doing some critical thinking and independent investigation.

    Yes, it’s true that Cramer’s show is pretty silly. But Stewart didn’t choose to single him out. He criticized CNBC as a whole, mentioned Cramer in passing, and Cramer responded by going on half a dozen NBC-and-its-subsidiaries-shows and hyping the conflict out of all proportion. I feel kinda sorry for the guy, but–he asked for it. And I’m glad that CNBC got called out. The Daily Show never assign culpability for the economic crisis to these guys. He held them accountable for falling down on the job they profess to be doing.

  6. markfollman on

    Stacy- thanks for your thoughts. I think that by running an unusual half-hour interview with Cramer (rather than the normal show format), and by using a bunch of damning clips of him, Stewart in fact was very much singling out Cramer for blame. In effect, the message to the audience was, ‘my conversation with this guy is exceptionally important’ — he was being interrogated as the point man for CNBC. Stewart is shrewd, and it was highly entertaining to watch, especially since Cramer reacted in an unexpected way. But I think it’s quite a stretch to point to what Cramer does on the network and say CNBC “fell down on the job.”

    And what exactly is CNBC’s job? I’ve never gotten the sense that it’s much about watchdog or investigative journalism… as I’ve written about in these pages, it’s mostly about infotainment. I think that’s pretty apparent when watching it, in part due to some of the very inanities (such as “In Cramer We Trust”) that it hypes itself with.

  7. […] — to be quite knowledgeable, engaging and forthright. And I happen to agree with her take on Jon Stewart’s big beatdown of Jim Cramer and CNBC back in […]


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