Cramer, I’m sorry, man. I didn’t mean to bring a whole media circus upon your head. And now some guy named Stewart is involved and making a mockery of what you do and your network’s credibility. This has really gotten out of hand.
The whole thing started a month ago when I pretty much said Jim Cramer, the host of CNBC’s Mad Money program, didn’t know what the hell he was talking about with respect to ETFs. In particular, Cramer was calling for the SEC to ban the ProShares UltraShort Financials ETF (SKF). He said this was a dangerous vehicle for investors. I said Cramer was out of line and that people should read the prospectus before buying something like this. Then I, well, I wasn’t very nice and pointed out he told people to hold Bear Stearns just days before it went out of business.
IndexUniverse.com picked up on this and decided to interview me about my views on Cramer and SKF. I tried to be nice, but basically said Cramer was wrong. Well, from there it just picked up steam. I was watching The Daily Show with Jon Stewart on Monday, which is my wont to do, and lo and behold, he has CNBC’s financial news commentary in his crosshairs of satire. Stewart pretty much lambasted the entire CNBC network for not telling the American people we were heading into a crisis and for sucking up to the CEOs that caused this crisis. Cramer took offense and started biting back. Originally started as an attack on CNBC commentator Rick Santelli, Cramer became the face of the debate as he became more vocal about Stewart’s attack. Stewart continued for the next three days, culminating with Cramer coming onto the Daily Show. The interview nearly lasted for the whole show. Stewart pulled the cartoon trick of ripping out Cramer’s heart and eating it in front of him before letting him die.
It wasn’t very funny and it wasn’t really satire. But it was intense and vicious. Stewart was unrelenting in his criticism of CNBC. He blamed the network for failing to inform investors and instead acting as cheerleaders for Wall Street. All the country’s anger at Wall Street came through Stewart in an accusation that was compelling the way a big car accident is compelling. And Jon was right, the media, with a few notable exceptions, did cheer this on.
The problem Stewart said was the “gap between what CNBC advertises itself as and what it is.” The sad thing is most people know that CNBC is a cheerleader for the market. One just needs to look at the way they chastised Congress for not passing the TARP fast enough in September and their refusal to look deeper at, let alone attack, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson’s blatant attempt at a power grab with now government oversight.
Stewart was brilliant. The upsetting thing for me was that he, a satirist, commentator and comedian, was asking harder hitting questions than most of the mainstream media, of which I am a member, has over the past 10 years. Essentially, is showed that most of the financial media hadn’t learned anything from the cheerleading that led to the Internet bubble of 1999.
“I know you want to make finance entertaining, but finance isn’t a … game,” said Steward. “You think it’s a sin of omission, but it’s a sin of commission. … You knew what the banks were doing and you touted it for months. So to say it’s a crazy once in a lifetime tsunami is disingenuous at best and criminal at best.”
Surprisingly, unlike many of the commentators out there on both the left and right, Stewart is very polite with those he doesn’t agree with. He never screams at guests he doesn’t agree with and never interrupts them. Still, he can be brutal and vicious.
I give Cramer a lot of credit for taking on Stewart on Jon’s home court. Stewart is like a football team that never loses at home. And he uses the old “60 Minutes” trick of pulling out videos of people contradicting themselves. Tim Russert was a master of this and one of the few in the mainstream media to use it.
I can’t decide what I think of Cramer’s performance. A lot of people say he should have been as stubborn and feisty as he is on his show and defended CNBC more. Maybe he realized it was indefensible and maybe CNBC realized this was a way for the network to acknowledge they screwed up and to make a mea culpa to the public. Since Cramer has no problem apologizing for his mistakes, and since he is one of the network’s biggest personalities, he seemed a perfect choice to become the point man on this.
Cause in the end, as Stewart asked, “Whose side are you on?”
All in all it was incredible television, compelling, entertaining, enlightening, educational and as bloody as a talk show can get from two men sitting at a desk wearing ties.
This is only the pinnacle of why many people get their news from The Daily Show. While a lot of the show can be sophomoric, it is also one of the most intelligent shows on TV. Especially because it is one of the only shows on TV that talks to authors of serious books on topics of national and international importance. It’s a comedy show? Who else on TV talks about books besides Oprah and Brian Lamb on Cspan? And Oprah doesn’t deal with nonfiction too much. Sure plenty of people interview authors, but hardly ever for 8 minutes about the subject of the book.
So, Jon, or whoever on your staff who reads this blog, thanks. And if you are looking for another book, check out ETFs for the Long Run.