Cramer vs Stewart

Ken AshfordEconomy & Jobs & DeficitLeave a Comment

Busy day, so I won't be able to comment as much as I'd like.

First of all, it was riveting television.  Far more riveting than I expected.

Stewart didn't sugarcoat.  Of course, his main beef wasn't with Jim Cramer per se — he told Cramer: “as Carly Simon said 'This isn’t about you'". And it wasn't.  It wasn’t about Cramer making bad stock picks, but rather, the whole idea of CNBC — the entire network — serving as a cheerleader for market insiders, including those who mismanaged their companies or created toxic financial packages. 

Stewart talked about the "two stock markets" — one which most of us are familiar with (the one where we don't day trade, but have our money in it as part of our 401(k)s), and the other "unreal" stock market which of full of unregulated short term speculation.  As Stewart told Cramer, the former is underwriting the excesses of the latter. As a financial news network, CNBC should have been critical of the "unreal" stock market–but instead, Cramer and his buddies cheered on the speculative frenzy. Money quote from Stewart:

"These guys at these companies were on a Sherman's March through their companies financed by our 401Ks… And they burned the fucking house down with our money and walked away rich as hell and you guys knew that that was going on."

Stewart's main thrust was that in the absence of regulation and oversight, it was incumbant on CNBC in the boom of the last decade, to investigate and look at some of these dealings, rather than just accept the words of CEOs that all was hunky-dorey.

For his part, Cramer (a good sport, I'll admit) could do nothing but agree.  He mea culpa-ed as much as he could while retaining his dignity.  Even then, not much was left of it.

Stewart is modest when he claims that he is at the helm of a "fake news" show.  Last night, he acted like a journalist.  A journalist critical of (in this case) the failure of financial journalism.

The New York Times has an excellent review of the show.  A select quote:

Mr. Stewart treated his guest like a C.E.O. subpoenaed to testify before Congress — his point was not to hear Mr. Cramer out, but to act out a cathartic ritual of indignation and castigation.

“Listen, you knew what the banks were doing, yet were touting it for months and months, the entire network was,” the Democratic Senator from Comedy Central said. “For now to pretend that this was some sort of crazy, once-in-a-lifetime tsunami that nobody could have seen coming is disingenuous at best and criminal at worst.”


Once he had Mr. Cramer at his desk, Mr. Stewart showed fresh, and even more embarrassing clips from a 2006 interview with the Web site he founded,, in which he too candidly explained how hedge fund market manipulation really works.

And the “Daily Show” host pointedly questioned the hyped-up theatricality and dubious claims of CNBC shows like “Mad Money” and “Fast Money.” When Mr. Cramer explained, “There is market for it and you give it to them,” Mr. Stewart stared at him in disbelief, exclaiming. “There’s a market for cocaine and hookers!”

The response from the Daily Show evisceration has been HUGE:

  • The Atlantic's James Fallows: "It's true: Jon Stewart has become Edward R. Murrow….

    Yes, it is cliched to praise Stewart as the “true” voice of news; and, yes, it is too pinata-like to join the smacking of CNBC. . . .

    But I found this — the Stewart/Cramer slaughter — incredible. . . .

    Although, improbably, I share a journalistic background with Cramer (at different times each of us was editor of the same college paper), I thought Stewart, without excessive showboating, did the journalistic sensibility proud.

    Just before leaving China — ie, two days ago — I saw with my wife the pirate-video version of Frost/Nixon, showing how difficult it is in real time to ask the kind of questions Stewart did. I know, Frost was dealing with a former president. Still, it couldn’t have been easy to do what Stewart just did.

  • Benen: "After a week of back and forth, Stewart had Jim Cramer on 'The Daily Show' last night and not only destroyed the 'Mad Money' host, but more importantly, exposed CNBC as an embarrassment. By the time the brutal interview was over, one thing was clear: the network has no clothes. […] Watching the evisceration, I couldn't help but wonder why it takes a comedian on Comedy Central to do the kind of interview the non-fake news shows ought to be doing. When the media establishment marvels at Jon Stewart's popularity, they tend to think it's his humor. It's not. It's because he calls 'bullsh*t' when most major media players won't. He did so last night, and it made for important viewing."

  • Daily Kos' Jed Lewison: "Sometimes listening to Jon Stewart is like what you'd imagine it would be like to listen to a great journalism professor…except you're laughing so hard you've fallen out of your chair. In tonight's interview, Stewart makes the case for what CNBC should have been doing over the past few years: actual business reporting, instead of acting like they were an entertainment channel for the stock market."
  • AMERICAblog's Joe Sudbay: "Jon Stewart asks questions that no one else asked. The business media was to the economic crisis as the DC media was to the Iraq War and other Bush lies."
  • Firedoglake's Scarecrow: "Using CNBC's Jim Cramer as both Exhibit A and an accessory, Stewart laid out a devastating indictment of the industry and CNBC's facilitating, coverup role. As Cramer fumbled to defend himself and CNBC, Stewart showed clip after clip of Cramer describing stock price manipulation, insider scams, and how cool and easy it is to fool federal and state regulators. And in the process, the 'comedian' as Cramer tried to belittle Stewart with Joe Scarborough's help, not only humiliated Cramer; he showed by contrasting example how shallow and inept most of the MSM has been in covering the financial scandal."
  • The Atlantic's Andrew Sullivan: "This was, in my view, a real cultural moment. It was a storming of the Bastille. It was, as Fallows notes, journalism. […] It's not enough any more, guys, to make fantastic errors and then to carry on authoritatively as if nothing just happened. You will be called on it. In some ways, the blogosphere is to MSM punditry what Stewart is to Cramer: an insistent and vulgar demand for some responsibility, some moral and ethical accountabilty for previous decisions and pronouncements."

The unedited interview (which lasted longer that the show will allow) is at The Daily Show website.  And here:

FLASHBACK:  In 2004, Jon Stewart appeared on CNN's "Crossfire," and explained that the show was "hurting America." He wasn't kidding. The brutal appearance exposed the show as something of a farce; CNN's executives ended up agreeing with Stewart; and three months later, CNN announced that "Crossfire" was finished.

David Brancaccio, host and senior editor of "Now on PBS," commended Cramer for his bravery in going on the show, though he said he was surprised that the brilliant founder of seemed ill-prepared for Stewart's very thoughtful questioning.

Brancaccio, the former host of American Public Media's "Marketplace" radio program, echoed the comments of many in that he found the exchange visibly uncomfortable for the usually showman-like Cramer.

"You have the comedian as journalist, and you have the financial journalist as clown, in that on his show, Cramer's goofing around and plays the clown," Brancaccio said. "What a role reversal."

Brancaccio said Stewart's show has emerged as an important vehicle for media criticism. Thursday's night show marked an important moment in journalism, especially financial reporting, Brancaccio said.

"It's really important that tough questions are asked, because when tough questions aren't asked, we end up with Enron," he said. "It's interesting that the tough questions came from Jon Stewart, brilliant comedian that he is."

Brancaccio thinks the episode may serve as a cautionary tale for those in the media who don't do their 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."


The topic is such a hot one that [Howard] Kurtz will lead "Reliable Sources" with it Sunday, with journalist Tucker Carlson, radio show host Stephanie Miller and "Baltimore Sun" television critic David Zurawik as guests.

"Beyond the entertainment value, and we are not above that, this is a really important moment for holding financial journalists accountable," Kurtz said. "It may have taken Jon Stewart to blow the whistle on some of the hype and shortsightedness at America's top business news channel, but those failings were repeated throughout the business press, which stumbled badly in reporting on what turned into a huge financial meltdown."

And from the Rude Pundit:

The fascinating thing about last night's Daily Show beatdown of CNBC screamer Jim Cramer by Jon Stewart was not how Stewart knocked out Cramer. That was easy – Cramer walked into the ring and curled up on the floor, waiting for it to be over. It was that Stewart's point wasn't merely that CNBC is often wrong. No, Stewart was asking if CNBC existed to give aid and comfort to corporations or to the individual. In fact, Stewart's point was that we are greedy shits by nature and we need people to temper it, not fan it. And isn't it the job of purported business journalists to find out who's telling the truth and not just get in bed with execs so that they can, as Cramer said of Lehman Brothers' CEO, lie to their faces and expect to be believed? Stewart's anger at Cramer (and, indeed, at all journalism, not just business) is that we need people to do their fucking jobs. Or we get unnecessary wars and financial collapses that could have been predicted.

What Cramer's right about is that CNBC was just giving people what they like: a loud, shiny show that massages your avarice muscle until it's good and supple.

UPDATE:  Cramer was a no-show on the Morning Joe show with Joe Scarborough this morning.  On his Twitter, Scarborough speculates that Cramer, a Democrat, is devestated that he is unliked by his fellow Democrats.