Just devastating. That's my take on John Stewart's evisceration of Jim Cramer on last night's Daily Show, and it's pretty much every intelligent observer's take, also. James Fallows declares Stewart the new Edward R. Murrow. The Chicago Tribune calls Stewart the "thinking man's Rick Santelli," which, I believe was meant to be a compliment. On the other side of the aisle, Diane Bray, writing in Businessweek seems stunned that Cramer didn't put up a better defense:
At this point, I fully expected Cramer to jump up and shout his point of view: the best calls he made, what his audience wants from him, how easy it is to find 45 damning seconds of tape when you go back through hundreds of hours of footage. He could have debunked Stewart’s conspiracy theory. After all, why would anyone in the hyper-competitive TV news business ever keep quiet if they were aware of wrongdoing or heard rumors that a company was going to collapse? The financial turmoil has been ratings gold for CNBC precisely because viewers can’t tear their eyes away from the crisis as it unfolds. News networks often thrive on bad news.Bray, of course, missed the point entirely. A list of good stock picks he'd made would have seemed a glaring non-sequitor in the context of last night's interview. Stewart didn't go after Cramer for being bad at projecting the direction of the market or even individual stocks. That would have been too easy. It would have been a cheap shot, which is why the right-wing media have focused most of their attention on that aspect of Stewart's original critique of CNBC. What Stewart was most focused on, rather, were the back door dealings and lack of transparency that give the big guys in the market such an advantage over the little guy. The Daily Show host was merciless in his dissection of an interview Cramer gave some time back in which Cramer bascially admitted to market manipulation during his days as a hedge fund manager. When Cramer sought, rather meekly, to justify the interview by suggesting that he was merely trying to shed light on what goes on on Wall Street, Stewart stopped him, rolled tape and showed the rest of the segment in which Cramer goes on to encourage other fund managers to do the same. The visibly shamed Cramer didn't even try to mount a defense after that point.
Stewart's anger was righteous, and his pointed analogies savage. Bank executives, he told us, burned through their companies like Sherman marching through the South, and they did it with our money. They left us impoverished while making millions for themselves. On this point Cramer did not disagree, defending himself instead by insisting that business executives he had known for years lied to him when he interviewed them for his pieces. The Chicago Tribune described Cramer's attitude during the interview this way:
Cramer, the usually peripatetic host of CNBC's "Mad Money," sat and took it, mostly, like a schoolboy willing to let the teacher go on in hopes of still being allowed to graduate.This is a fair assessment of Cramer's demeanor, but I think it's a little unfair in the personal judgment it levels. One of the reasons that Stewart was able to eviscerate his guest so completely last night was that, unlike Rick Santelli (for whom Cramer was an unfortunate proxy), Jim Cramer obviously has a conscience. It's impossible to imagine Cramer lashing out at over-extended homeowners in an unhinged rant and referring to them as "losers" while a room full of stock brokers cheers him on. To that extent, last night's interview was unfortunate, if not unfair. It was really Rick Santelli we wanted sitting in tha chair last night, along with Larry Kudlow, Maria Baritromo and the whole gang of big-money sycophants who allowed the markets to trample over ordinary Americans like schoolboys stomping on ants and who scoff every time a Democratic president proposes measures that would help the sorts of people who work from 9 to 5 selling life insurance policies, paving roads, flipping burgers. These hansomely compensated media personalities woship at the feet of industry titans who are worth even more than they are and scream "where's the moral hazard?!" every time the government promotes measures that would better the lives the bottom 95%. Supply side economics may be a cruel joke everywhere else, but it's the Gospel According to Jesus at CNBC. Instead of doing what an honest news gathering operation should be doing, and rooting out corruption in our markets, the lack of government oversight that makes it possible and pushing for more transparency, for a more even playing field for ordinary investors, the hosts at CNBC and most of the business media are all players in the filty, dishonest, incestuous orgy of power that made the last decade possible. They don't speak truth to power, rather they idolize that power and help enable its crimes.
It was bittersweet watching Cramer take the heat for all those guys with tears vsisbly welling up in his eyes as Stewart lectured him as from on high. Someone from the financial media needed a dressing down for their complicity in the sheer madness an untrammelled greed that gutted our economic house over the past 8 years. I just wish it had been execrable figures like Santelli, Kudlow, and Alan Greenspan, who even now justify their despicable behavior and deification of ruthless greed by blaming completely incidental social policies that were meant to help the poor --when they're not overtly blaming the working poor themselves. In many ways what we saw last night was the unwinding of a Shakesperean tragedy, but it was the jester who paid the price for the King's hubris... not the King himself. So there is still work to be done.