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.
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.