Friday, March 13, 2009

Economic Meltdown No Laughing Matter

Jon Stewart on the "Daily Show" with his guest Jim Cramer who hosts the "Mad Money" show on CNBC. They have been feuding about the economy this week.

Click for video.

It wasn’t a “Brawl Street,” or a thrilla in vanilla. It wasn’t a “Daily Show” friendly feud or even much of a discussion. Mostly, the much-hyped Thursday night showdown between Jon Stewart and Jim Cramer, the mercurial host of “Mad Money” on CNBC, felt like a Senate subcommittee hearing.

Cramer is a buffoon. He has rubber chickens, bells, and makes his show seem a game show. It trivializes what should be fairly serious business. Not that investing needs to be dry and boring, but it is not a game.

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.

Well deserved, by CEOS and Cramer.

“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.”


And while it’s never much fun to watch a comedian lose his sense of humor, in an economic crisis, it’s even sadder to see supposed financial clairvoyants acting like clowns.


Part of his frustration may stem from the fact that while Mr. Stewart clearly won the debate, Mr. Cramer and CNBC stood to profit from the encounter. In today’s television news market, the cable network and its stars are like the financiers they cover — media short-sellers trading shamelessly on publicity, good or bad, so long as it drives up ratings. There isn’t enough regulation on Wall Street, and there’s hardly any accountability on cable news: it’s a 24-hour star system where opinions — and showmanship — matter more than facts.

Fair and Balanced? Gimme-a-break.

The “Daily Show” has shown clip after clip from last year that show Mr. Cramer assuring his “Mad Money” viewers that Bear Stearns was not in trouble — shortly before the heavily leveraged investment firm imploded. He has apologized to his viewers several times since then. (“I have always thought they were honest,” he said on Thursday. “That was my mistake.”)

Oops, sorry.

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!”

Mr. Stewart kept getting the last word, but Mr. Cramer may yet have the last laugh.

It is all about ratings.

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