Cramer Vs. Stewart? More like Cramer Vs. Cramer

Cramer_1 That might have been the most foolish appearance by someone whose name sounded like “Cramer” since “Seinfeld” went off the air.

Jon Stewart grilled CNBC’s Jim Cramer for all but five minutes of his show on Thursday night, while the “Mad Money” host feebly kept promising to do better. He should have stayed home.

In the process, Stewart again displayed journalistic instincts that put many conventional TV news organizations — including CNBC — to shame. The key exchange, in fact, hinged on Stewart explaining to Cramer what journalists do after Cramer threw up his hands at the idea that CNBC might have misled viewers because CEOs had lied to him.

“I’m under the assumption you don’t just take their word at face value,” Stewart said, hitting at his central point: That CNBC is so enamored with, and has been so deeply in bed with, the financial heavyweights that their breathless coverage was “disingenuous at best and criminal at worst.”

A penitent-sounding Cramer meekly protested that he’s simply doing “an entertainment show about business,” but there’s the rub: Either it’s entertainment — and therefore not to be taken seriously by those seeking genuine financial advice — or it’s a show about business, in which case CNBC’s willingness to lap up whatever Wall Street figures said amounted to letting them get away with financial murder. “They burned the f–kin’ house down with our money,” Stewart said. In that context, Cramer’s ranting and wacky sound effects look considerably less amusing — less a sideshow than an abdication of responsibility.

CNBC has a small audience, but it’s nevertheless an extremely valuable franchise for NBC Universal that has been damaged in the public consciousness over the last week. That concern perhaps explains why Cramer has made a veritable tour of NBC assets — the “Today” show, “Morning Joe” on MSNBC, Martha Stewart’s NBC-distributed syndicated program — to defend himself, albeit not particularly well. If the PR conclusion was that sitting in dark room hiding wasn’t an option, that certainly would have been preferable for Cramer and CNBC to what transpired Thursday.

How this will play out is yet to be determined, but my gut says the whole “feud” will likely fade away fairly soon. Nevertheless, given the pain the economy continues to inflict on the public, “The Daily Show” has delivered a reminder of the need for independent-minded journalism — and in the process rendered CNBC a laughingstock to many casual viewers that might not have afforded the channel much thought previously.

Meanwhile, the old adage that “There’s no such thing as bad publicity” appears not to be operable here — at least not yet, anyway. Based on Nielsen data, ratings for Cramer’s program and CNBC have actually dropped marginally since Stewart delivered his first rant — a little surprising, given that one might have expected all those web links to prompt some tune-in out of curiosity. Then again, the channel’s audience is relatively puny  — averaging 0.3% of U.S. households.

CNBC is still standing, but the foundation looks shakier than before this whole brouhaha began. And Cramer and the rest of his colleagues have been publicly schooled on what a truly tough interview looks like.

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  1. speedsamurai says:

    Virgil, an ambush means that it was a surprise attack and this was anything but a surprise attack. It was a public debate where Stewart was obviously more prepared than Cramer. I’m surprise anyone still look at CNBC as anything else than entertainment after its coverage of the dotcom bubble earlier in this century. Out of all the hours of coverage it provides on a daily basis, CNBC probably provides 5 to 10 minutes of good information. Do your own research people when you are deciding where to put your hard earned money. Educate yourself from independent sources like Value Line, SEC filings, etc. Don’t listen to a guy like Cramer and people who make a living off of traffic. Make your own decisions and read the Intelligent Investor by Benjamin Graham. Learn the game before you play it.

  2. Virgil says:

    Cramer was ambushed by Stewart. He looked like a school boy in the principal’s office.

  3. Tom Storm says:

    Apologies for double entry but it was ‘tara’s comment that I was actually responding to.
    Response to Jenny Winston: tara:
    I agree with what you say – but I also think Jon Stewart uses his position wisely. It’s odd that Comedy Central is now the most credible voice in broadcast journalism in the USA. Rupert Murdoch would have been better off buying Comedy Central than the Wall Street Journal.

  4. Tom Storm says:

    Response to Jenny Winston:
    I agree with what you say – but I also think Jon Stewart uses his position wisely. It’s odd that Comedy Central is now the most credible voice in broadcast journalism in the USA. Rupert Murdoch would have been better off buying Comedy Central than the Wall Street Journal.

  5. Michael says:

    Sad that I’m a senior studying Political Science and the only television media I have to find objective good journalism is The Daily Show.I concur, Jon Stewart is a rarity in the journalism world, he actually knows how to prepare for an debate. He’s intelligent and actually speaks and asks the questions for the educated/working/rational class. Pretty sad I have to rely on Comedy Central for my news, but hey, they have proven to be a much more objective and intellectual news than any of the other networks.

  6. Bryan Mueller says:

    Amen to that.
    Comedy Central, of all places, continues to put the bigger networks’ news programs to shame. Roasting Jim Cramer might have been TOO easy for Stewart, but it was still cathartic.

  7. Pam says:

    If there’s anyone I trust in the media, it is definitely Jon Stewart. He is the voice of intelligent, questioning and literate people. I could not have gotten through the last horrible eight years without Jon Stewart. I felt that at the very least, there was someone in the media who saw the same disasters as I (and most everyone I know) did. And, more importantly, made me laugh and gave me hope for the future. Thank God for Jon Stewart. The best friend in the media that us regular folks can count on.

  8. tara says:

    All I know is that Jon Stewart has lost the ability claim that he is “just a comedian.” This man has a lot of influence and power. He should use it wisely. All that being said, it was a pretty good rant. And I agree: Cramer should have just stayed home. He’d have been better off.

  9. Jenny Winston says:

    Jon Stewart should anchor Meet the Press

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