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Stewart-Cramer: Serious Business

Updated

In the closing minutes of “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” on Thursday, after his epic, heavily hyped absurd showdown with James Cramer ended with an interview (below) with the man himself, Stewart said, “I hope that it was as uncomfortable to watch as it was to do.”

He was right. Stewart not broke out of his regular format — the interview with CNBC’s Cramer ran well beyond the allotted time — but he strayed from the point of his show, and even his network.

Stewart wasn’t funny; He was angry, literally pointing his finger at Cramer, indicting him for complicity in the evaporation of our 401K wealth. His pontifications weren’t followed by punchlines; uneasy questions weren’t followed by snappy comebacks.

“It’s not a (f*%#*!) game,” Stewart admonished Cramer, as the wild-eyed guru blabbered and babbled and struggled for explanations, sometimes rendered speechless.

Stewart chided Cramer and CNBC for hyping up a market manipulated by Wall Street shenanigans, at one point even calling financial journos’ behavior perhaps “criminal.” He charged that CNBC was in lock step with the shady CEOs and hedge fund managers who brought down retirement savings and the rest of the economy. And he pointed out the absurdity of its correspondents trying to pin the blame of the economic mess on mortgage holders, rather than the banks themselves.

Cramer defended himself at points, but most of the time could only acknowledge that yes, he’s made mistakes.

“Should we have been constantly pointing out the mistakes that were made? Absolutely. I truly wish we had done more.”

Efforts to argue that he’d been trying to illuminate the tricks of short sells and market manipulation were met with Stewart presenting clips of a 2006 interview, posted on Huffington Post this week, in which Cramer appears to be boasting of engaging in just such behavior.

By the end, Stewart told Cramer that it was unfortunate that he had become the poster boy for the market’s fallen wizards. Cramer was conciliatory and deferential, and he certainly wasn’t anything close to “Mad Money.” The sober tone of the show was a reminder that the Stewart-Cramer feud was funny, until we realized we’ve all been duped.

Update: Mike Allen of Politico writes on Political Playbook, “You can stop reading. It’s all anyone will be talking about. Have a good weekend.”

He offers a key passage of Stewart’s interview: “We’re both snake-oil salesmen, to a certain extent. But we DO label the show as snake oil here. … When you talk about ‘the regulators,’ why not the financial news network? … CNBC could be an incredibly powerful tool of illumination for people that believe that there are two markets: One … has been sold to us as long term: ‘Put your money in 401ks. Put your money in pensions. And just LEAVE it there. Don’t worry about it. It’s all doing fine.’ Then there’s this OTHER market, this REAL market that’s occurring in the back room, where giant piles of money are going in and out, and people are trading them, and it’s transactional, and it’s fast. But it’s dangerous, it’s ethically dubious, and it hurts that long-term market. So what it feels like to us – and I’m speaking purely as a layman – it feels like we are capitalizing your adventure by our pension and our hard-earned … and that it is a game that you KNOW, that you know is going on, but that you go on television as a financial network and pretend isn’t happening.”

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