NBC Universal is doubtless hoping Jon Stewart's takedown of CNBC quickly fades into the ether, but the company's collective response — or lack thereof — to Jim Cramer's dismal "The Daily Show" appearance risked turning a small fire into a raging one.
After building up Cramer with appearances on "Today" and MSNBC's "Morning Joe" in advance of his date with Stewart, there was virtually no follow-up on NBC-owned outlets in the wake of the interview. Indeed, the website mediabistro.com/tvnewser reported that MSNBC producers had been instructed not to feature the segment on their programs, which elicited — as my colleague Dan Frankel wrote – a not particularly resounding denial, since minimal coverage on Rachel Maddow's show doesn't fully deflect the charges of a blackout — especially beyond its two primetime programs.
Granted, this wasn't a huge "hold the presses" story. Still, given the amount of attention it generated elsewhere and the kind of lightweight pop-culture material that MSNBC normally pounces on, bypassing it at best smells fishy, and at worst feeds the sense that some kind of orchestrated corporate ass-covering was involved.
For its part, CNBC issued a statement expressing how the network is "proud" of its journalism. It's hard to believe that anyone there is equally proud of its PR efforts, where someone should have either dissuaded Cramer from doing the "Daily Show" guest shot or, barring that, prepped him better for the buzzsaw he cheerfully walked into, offering only "I'll try harder" as a feeble defense.
Frankly, it's not surprising that Cramer wanted to do it, and I think Dennis Miller nailed the reason in a guest shot on Fox News' "The O'Reilly Factor" Monday. "Cramer hates the idea that someone as quintessentially cool as Jon Stewart
thinks he's a putz," Miller said. Bingo — but that doesn't mean that somebody at CNBC shouldn't have saved him from himself.
Ultimately, the way it was handled in the incident's aftermath risked tarring not just CNBC but MSNBC and NBC News as collateral damage — not a bad night's work for Stewart, a figure Cramer had blithely dismissed as "a comedian" before his drubbing. Already, a fixcnbc.comsite has launched, urging the channel to serve the public instead of its narrow focus on blather aimed at day traders. Hell, even columnist George Will piled on, quipping on ABC's "This Week" that among the rules one should follow — beyond not playing poker with a guy named "Slim" — is "Don't take financial advice from people who are shouting." (The funniest comment, by the way, came from Tucker Carlson on CNN, who labeled Stewart a "partisan hack." Clearly, Carlson is still smarting from the tongue-lashing "The Daily Show" host administered back in his "Crossfire" days.)
Finally, see my earlier post — "Jim Cramer-Martha Stewart Caption Contest!" — to see who won.