Jon Stewart, Jim Cramer and the rampaging cowards of journalism

First, just in case you haven’t seen it, please review the video (in three parts).

It’s  been suggested before that Jon Stewart is perhaps America’s most trustworthy journalist. Which is nice for him, but not so good for the rest of us, because he’s not a journalist. He’s a comedian. He’s David Letterman. He’s Larry the Cable Guy. He’s Phyllis Diller. He makes his living by making people laugh.

But here he is, once again stepping up and telling truth to power in ways that seem spectacular to us. (And make no mistake – money is power in America, and media conglomerates are among power’s most critical brokers. So stomping the balls off of Jim Cramer does, in fact, constitute speaking truth to power.)

The relevant part of that last paragraph occurs toward the end of the first sentence. What Stewart did has been the talk of the entire fucking world in the last 48 hours. He, a guy with a TV show, hauled a man out into the town square who has done, by omission or commission – your choice – grave damage to countless Americans. Whether Cramer contributed to the insanity that has led us to our current economic apocalypse directly or whether his worst sin is that he did not use his platform to call out the guilty in advance, he and his employers played a noteworthy role in facilitating our financial crash. And we, the citizenry of the information-logged society in the history of the solar system, stand agog: motherfucking WOW! Did you SEE that?!

This is the tragedy. We’re as staggered at the occurrence of actual journalism as we would be by the sight of Rosie O’Donnell clubbing Donald Trump to death with her boobs. The fact that the only journalism in recent memory has emanated from Comedy Central is … well, it’s like shooting novocaine into the leg of a quadriplegic, really.

Cap and Bells

It’s never been easy – or profitable, or even safe – to speak truth to power. America circa 2009 isn’t the first place when the ordained channels have failed to convey to the people an accurate accounting of the events shaping their lives. In fact, what we’re dealing with now is more reflective of the historical rule than it is the exception.

Throughout most of history you’ve had to search for the truth about power in indirect commentaries: literature, and especially speculative genre fiction, for instance. Comedy. Art. The forms allow a person with a point of view to express it while maintaining a sheen of plausible deniability. “Oh, no, your majesty, I wasn’t writing about your munificent presence! The malevolent criminal monarch in my story is something I imagined might exist in a less just society on a planet in another galaxy.” It’s good to remember that science fiction and fantasy are never about the future or other worlds – they’re always about here and now.

And there’s the very old tradition of the fool. The jester, in his classical incarnation, was the only one in the court who could get away with telling the truth. The fact that he was a certified nutball removed enough credibility from his words that he could say serious things without being taken seriously. He was fine so long as he didn’t slip into lucidity.

Put another way, the truth has always been there if you knew where to look and understood the code. 2009 isn’t a lot different from 1009 in that respect, I imagine. There can be a price to be paid if the wrong person says the wrong thing in the wrong way. Once upon a time the price might be that your loved ones would get to watch your head being paraded around on a pike. Now the price might be something as pedestrian as losing a job opportunity or having your reputation perma-slandered by a vicious partisan noise machine. But there’s always risk, so the citizen bent on telling the truth needs to understand the context.

Clowning America

Throughout the Bush years any journalist with the temerity to act like an actual reporter paid a price. The default was loss of “access,” and that was pretty terrifying to most on the best because your ability to survive was going to be hindered if you couldn’t get anywhere near the newsmakers. This wasn’t the worst that could happen, of course. Ask Joe Wilson or that mealy-mouthed cocksucker Scott McClellan (not a journalist by any means, but a good illustration of the point) what happened when you hit the Bush/Cheney mob a little too close to home. At best, it took courage and hopefully enough cash-on-hand to sustain you through some hard times.

Clearly that wasn’t the only place where the institutions of the Fourth Estate lacked, and continue to lack, courage. As Stewart makes brutally clear in his 20 minute-plus dismemberment of Jim Cramer – a man not heretofore known for being short on words or self-confidence – finding malpractice in the field of financial journalism (my new favorite oxymoron, by the way) is about as tough as finding loose morals in a whorehouse. Think about it. You have CNBC, FOX’s biz news, the Wall Street Journal, the financial sections of hundreds of newspapers, and how many more business “news” outlets. How many of them were warning you of the things that we’re now told were more or less inevitable? (Told by some, I should say – others are still trying to say there was no way we could have predicted this. Which is bullshit – I know some very sharp people who predicted it, but they don’t have TV shows, in large part because they’re the sorts willing to tell the truth about rigged games. Maybe they should have put together an irreverent ventriloquist act or written a fantasy novel.

Media as far as they eye can see, so much media, so much “analysis,” and not a drop of journalism in sight.

It’s true that Jon Stewart isn’t the first funny guy in history to be the best available source of reliable reporting on the social, political and economic condition. But most of those places didn’t have democracies. Most didn’t have a free press. And none of them had more access to information or channels of distribution than we do.

“Journalism is no worse off now than it was during the reign of Caligula” is a true statement, but it’s not the sort of thing an advanced society should have to settle for, either.

Let’s get Jon Stewart the Peabody. Then a Pulitzer for The Onion. And why not a Nobel for the karma-obsessed lead in My Name is Earl?

If that’s the world we’re willing to accept, it’s the best we deserve.

31 replies »

  1. So now that he’s challenged the practice and ethics of a group of journalists, he’s pretty much set himself up (at least on this issue) to be held to those same standards – at least, if he has any personal integrity, and I hope he does. Now what we need to see is evidence that those clowns at MSNBC and the other networks were actually withholding available information. In the end, whether they could have or should have known speaks to their competence and intelligence. That’s important. Whether they did know and didn’t tell speaks to something far more serious.

    Stewart proved Cramer an idiot using the most effective means possible – his own words. If he can prove that he and his cohorts were liars by equally credible evidence, I’d happily add his name to the Pulitzer list. Because that would be excellence in journalism, no matter the source.

  2. Day in and day out, CNBC is one long infommercial for retail financial services. Saying anything to Cramer is not ‘speaking truth to power’ because neither Cramer nor CNBC has any power. I think Cramer gives his audience a feeling that they’re participating in a maverick tradition of lonely capitalists who prefer to rely on their own half-baked ideas. Not to say Cramer and his audience will soon be dissuaded that Obama’s economic policy isn’t devoted to the destruction of wealth. And that’s a separate issue.

  3. Dr. Slammy wrote:

    But here he is, once again stepping up and telling truth to power in ways that seem spectacular to us.

    Over the years, Jon Stewart has shown he’s more than just a comedian. A professed news junkie, he’s well-versed on many issues. On this night, he was at his eloquent best. The show beggared comparison with Stephen Colbert’s epic night at the Washington Correspondents’ dinner with George Bush.

    My wife pointed out that it seemed like not only he, but his mother, took a bath in the financial crisis (and perhaps at the hands of Madoff?).

    Cramer was oddly passive and apologetic. Still, as the New York Times points out:

    Part of Mr. Stewart’s frustration may stem from the fact that while he clearly won the debate, Mr. Cramer and CNBC stood to profit from the encounter. In today’s television news market, that cable network and its stars are like the financiers they cover: media short-sellers trading shamelessly on publicity, good or bad, so long as it drives up ratings. … Mr. Stewart kept getting the last word, but Mr. Cramer may yet have the last laugh.

  4. Ah, but Russ, did you see that MSNBC is telling its reporters not to mention the Stewart interview? This may be that rarest of things – publicity that’s really making someone nervous.

    Or it may just blow over.

    Oh, and Colbert’s speech… priceless. It got me through those last few months, I believe.

  5. So was it a surprise that Stewart lambasted Cramer? Did anyone expect something different? Stewart is the master of ambush for talk show hosts. His deep sarcasim and viscious tactics make Colbert look like a boy scout. Someone here mentioned Stewart as a ardent news junki and that he is well informed,,,so are millions of others but that does not make them a journalist, please don’t make me laugh with your ignorance. As mentioned previously, Cramer appeared to boost ratings for MSNBC and to salvage his reputation as best he could. Give him credit for going ion to the lions den or pity him for being that foolish! Oh by the way, if people lost millions by listening to Cramer or those like him shame on them, these guys are and gals (Suzy Ormond) are barely creditable as financial planners in my opinion. So lighten up and take two pepto bismol tablets prior to every Jon Stewart interview for safety’s sake!!

  6. Stewart is a jerk who makes people laugh at the expense of others….wait, that’s Don Rickles, I mean Stephen Colbert right? Either way, I’d like to slap toothpaste out of his big mouth. Hey Jon, how about 3 minutes in the ring with a senior citizen? I’ll knock yer block off ya big blow hard! OK, who’d win in a fight, Stewart or Colbert? Cramer or Bill O’Rielly? Chris Mathews or Sean Hannity? LBJ or JFK?

  7. Are these commentors drunk? I suppose that is a requirement to post at this site. I’ll be back, the quick mart is open till 10pm and Coors light 12 packs are on sale!!

  8. aviator3354, we take a rather dim view of posting multiple comments using multiple names here at S&R. Choose a single name (since you, timmy, and alice are all the same person) and personality and stick with it.

    Troll like this again and you’re banned.

  9. I was speaking with an acquaintance recently, someone with deep experience of Russia in the 90’s, and he pointed out that the scale of what’s happening in American finance makes what the Russian oligarchs* did look a minor, shop-lifting infraction. The difference, my acquaintance pointed out, is that we continue to act “rational” and “responsible” in response to it. Those are generally positive attributes, but a strange response to seeing family and friends being beaten, robbed and raped.

    Stewart is about the only one on the boob tube at least saying, “Fuck you. No, seriously, douchebag, fuck you.” It’s a start.

    *It didn’t get much press here, but believe me, it was astounding criminality…the only word that accurately describes what happened is “rape”. It didn’t get much press because Clinton liked to refer to Yeltsin as a “triumph of democracy” (congenital liars stick together), and many of Clinton’s people aided and abetted the oligarchs. If it makes you feel any better, some of those men have high ranking positions in the Obama administration.

  10. ‘Tis true! Larry Summers, Under Secretary of Treasury in the Clinton Administration, has all the oligarchs on his speed dial. And, if you examine the matter closely, you’ll find it wasn’t political incorrectness cost him his cushy job as President of Harvard. ‘Twas misconduct in his support for a Harvard employee, Andrei Shleifer, who had defrauded the Russians and USAID, which employed Harvard to assist the Russians in their privatization effort.

  11. While this argument goes on and the ratings go up for both networks, GE ends up making the money. GE owns both networks and is clearly the winner here.


  12. I don’t feel like looking for the source now, but I read that Mad Money’s ratings were down at the start of this “feud”. Perhaps they are up after this interview. If they are I think it will be temporary because people are curious to see if Cramer changes his ways.

    On a side note: Whats with the trolls? Don’t you people hate NBC? Isn’t Cramer part of the liberal MSM? Doesn’t this help out Fox Business Channel’s credibility (if they have any)?

  13. I have an idea for the television pundits. For most commentators, be they sporting or political, they’re not really able to get down there and run the team or the government and prove that their theories are good ones.

    Stock analysts are different as the market is open to everyone. It may be interesting for them to have their entire annual salaries paid into a trust a year ahead. Then they have to invest that salary exactly where they’re telling everyone else to put it and the trustees do the actual investing on their behalf (so their is no weaseling out afterwards).

    At the end of the year, whatever is left is theirs.

    I’ve no idea if this would work out for the journalists concerned, but damn-it, I’d believe them!

  14. Lex wrote: …the only accurate word that accurately describes what happened here is rape.

    Lex, sorry this is directed at you, but it really makes me angry when people misuse the word “rape” as some kind of hyperbole.

    Unless the action being described physically violates the victim and leaves them permanently scarred, interferring with their future intimate & sexual relations with their partners, no matter how loving and understanding that partner may be, it isn’t rape. Unless it gives them nightmares and causes them to pull away from simple human contact and requires years of therapy, it isn’t rape. When the mere mention of the word “rape” causes them to flinch and seeing rape scenes portrayed in movies makes them leave the room, sometimes in tears, then it’s the same. When telling someone about what happened to you promotes shame, though you weren’t at fault at all, that’s the experience of rape.

    When people use the word rape to mean anything other than actual rape, it devalues the word and the experience of the people who’ve experienced it. Lex, I know you weren’t using it in a joking manner, because you aren’t that kind of person. But you may not realize you are hurting victims and families of victims when you use the word to describe experiences that don’t even come close to the actual act.

    Said with kindness,
    Lara Amber

  15. Lara,

    I apologize, deeply. And i understand exactly what you said and why. I retract the phrasing.

    And thank you for saying it with kindness,

  16. While I enjoy watching Cramer every night, one must remember the show is primarily entertainment. The financial networks exist to promote their advertisers financial and investment products. Who would expect them to warn about the credit bubble or coming Washington national debt collapse which will destroy much of the remaining private wealth in America today or what this will do to the dollar, the stock market, bonds, gold or the real estate market?

    It is ironic that Jon Stewart and a comedy show instead of the regulators or news media had to bring all of this public. Also in Cramers defense he is far less guilty than most of the other financial media for their efforts together with Wall Street, the politicians & incompetent regulators for what has happened.

    China is now worried about their dangerous over investment in US Treasury obligations. Washington ’s long-term choice is either repudiation or monetization. For monetization to be effective, the depreciation in the dollar would have to be substantial and this in turn would dramatically raise prices of imports for American consumers which would mean a tremendous drop in foreign imports. Debt monetization would cause more disruption to exporting nations than selective repudiation of Treasury debt.

    The Campaign to Cancel the Washington National Debt By 12/22/2013 Constitutional Amendment is starting now in the U.S. See:


    Ron with 30 plus years in the investment business and banking industry.

  17. Lex,

    Apology completely accepted. I know plenty of people who are very nice thoughtful people who make the same error. They don’t mean to hurt the people around them.

    Lara Amber

  18. I like Jon Stewart, but I’m afraid he’s trying to simplify the financial meltdown into a giant conspiracy theory. Unfortunately, most of his audience doesn’t know any better. How many Wall Street jobs have been lost? How many had all of their money on the sidelines?

  19. @jeff watson – GE owns CNBC, Viacom owns Comedy Central and although the two companies co-own two Latin American TV stations and United International Pictures, they are two separate entities. GE benefits from CNBC ratings, Viacom benefits from Comedy Central ratings. Just FYI

  20. I don’t think Stewert was implying a conspiracy theory. He was saying that the Santelli (sp) was a bit hypocritical for complaining in the manner in which he did. Cramer actually escalated the feud by insinuating that Stewert was simply a comedian and thus his opinion was of little value.

    Cramer essentially threw down the gauntlet and Stewert was happy to oblige.

    I think, had there been no response at all from anyone related to CNBC this would be just another funny, but forgettable skit.

  21. Mike,

    I was saying that GE owns CNBC and MSNBC. I never mentioned Comedy Central.

    However, reviewing my statement, I can see where I was not clear…..mea culpa.


  22. Myself and other little guy market participants trying to make an honest buck for retirement have been criticizing Jim Cramer and his appalling wealth-destroying “advice” for years. I and many others first posted about his cockups in 2000 (“winners of the new world” – google it). How come when John Stewart hops on the bandwagon YEARS after the top in the housing market, and a full year into the worst bust since the Great Depression, and 7 years since Cramer first started getting slated by informed traders and investors, you congratulate him?

    John Stewart is a multimillionaire rich fat cat, a member of the establishment, a paid employee of a gigantic multi-media conglomerate of the type that you normally love to hate. Why are you so anxious to suck the cock of this pretty unfunny “comedian” just because he points out an obvious fact that *everyone* in finance or the markets knew almost an entire decade ago? Jim Cramer was THE cheerleader of the tech boom, right before it collapsed. We’ve seen this story before.

    You guys, like John Stewart, are just hopping on a bandwagon about 9 years after it left the station. Not funny, not intelligent, and TOTALLY USELESS for the people whose life savings were destroyed by following (dumbly) Cramer’s advice. Whereas myself and others did a far greater service by warning people about Cramer for a whole frickin decade.

    Basically you are showing your true colours – you’re just as bad as a Bush/Rove neocon, just of the opposite part of the establishment political spectrum. You don’t even follow the thoughts little guy, let alone listen to him. It takes a mega-rich professional gag-merchant to make you realize the folly of a generation. Why don’t you think for yourself for a change? Do some research, and dig out the facts, instead of being spoon-fed your “knowledge” and views by the corporate media bureaucracy.

    My quesiton – where was John “conscience of the nation” Stewart in 2006, warning about the housing bubble? I was. Other guys I know and respect were. He wasn’t. He was busy filing income tax on a 7 figure salary. Where was John Stewart in late 2001 warning about the dangers of patriotism and survival instinct gone to extremes? Even you “liberals” (ha!) were sucking the patriotic military-industrial complex dick then. You and all the satirists except Bill Maher were nowhere. I posted on 9/12/2001 that the west would demonize anyone from the middle east or brown skin, that Guantanamo would become a gulag, that Iraq would be a disaster, and you guys just banged the drum or stood silently aside.

    You aren’t liberal at all. Go back to the 18th and 19th century reformers if you want to know what liberal really means. It means thinking for yourself, being independent, concerned with truth and justice *regardless* of the politics of the people involved. It means respecting the views of others, honest debate, and the right to question established views without being called a heretic. Here on this site it’s more like Orwell’s Animal Farm, where all views are equal but some more so than others.

    Kicking Cramer now is like a German sticking the knife into Hitler in his bunker after doing diddly squat about him for 20 years. Real conscience, real political commitment, and real balls is about doing the right thing when *no one else is doing it*. Anyone can slate the bad guy when the mob has already condemned him. You wanna ask yourselves, why wasn’t I onto Cramer even 1 year ago? Let alone 9! Hang your heads in shame, faux “liberal” yellow-bellies.

    • Matt: Congratulations, but I know I feel badly for you. Omniscience is bound to be a tough burden to shoulder, and I can’t imagine how hard it has to be to to go around knowing everything a decade in advance.

      If you’ll get us a list of how the world will be in 2019, we’ll get everybody working on it right away. Or, at least, we’ll do the best that a small pack of unrepentant Busheviks can do with a little Web site that’s been in existence less than two years.

  23. This diary entry requires more effort. It’s comprised almost entirely of unrelated emotional projection. You attempt to relate from the false perspective of active participant by unwittingly attributing analogous past experience(s) to the present situation, instilling what you’ve mistaken as actual conviction. While such cognate inclusion is amusing, no doubt, these all too familiar cries for help tend to leave everyone feeling a little embarrassed.