Recently, Jon Stewart, host of The Comedy Network’s “The Daily Show,” has been launching hilarious barbs at CNBC for faulty financial reporting. Coming under particularly heavy fire were Jim Cramer, the rambunctious host of “Mad Money,” who has offered some blatantly bad advice, and Rick Santelli, who, in a recent video explosion, called unfortunate mortgage-holders “losers” and railed against a possible bail-out on their behalf. J. Stew has been up to his usual tricks in these segments — gimmicky voices, ironic editing, and frequent sexy glances camera-ward — and until the Cramer interview, it was no more than the usual pseudo-news.
Which is, of course, all we expect from Stewart. As he pointed out to Cramer, both men are snake-oil salesmen, but “The Daily Show” at least says “snake oil” on the tin. It doesn’t pretend to be anything other than it is: half an hour of pure entertainment, with a bit of news slipped in to give it structure. Sure, maybe in the old days it managed to lure some celebrities onstage who weren’t aware of the frat boy lurking beneath Stewart’s slick suit (or, before him, Craig Kilborn’s smooth coif). But given the show’s current popularity, anyone who clicks over and doesn’t expect to be treated to coarse humor and the odd racially-dubious joke has obviously been in a prolonged coma.
Cramer, on the other hand, claims in his show’s intro that his job is “not just to entertain you, but to educate you.” On the surface, “Mad Money” appears to be the reverse of “The Daily Show”: hard information made more palatable by Cramer’s hollering, sound effects, and penchant for plastic bulls. In and of itself, that says something about our inability to take in news unless it sparkles and cuts frequently to commercials. But Cramer’s hangdog demeanour on Stewart’s show, some incriminating videos that imply he knew more than he was saying, and his own admission that he took CEOs and reporters at their word without verifying the information, all point one way: the man sacrificed his journalistic integrity for popularity and ratings.
In a bizarre reversal of roles, Jon Stewart ceased cracking wise for a minute, and charged Cramer with the essential seriousness of what he does. Whether or not people should be taking financial advice from a man on TV is a whole other sack of ferrets, but Jim Cramer and the staff of CNBC claim to be experts. So it was about time somebody called them on their performance. Everyone makes a few bad calls from time to time, but it’s clear these pundits haven’t been entirely forthright with their audiences.
By this time we must needs ask, why was it left to a comedian to do it? Some have said Stewart’s out of his league on this one; when he took on Tucker Carlson two years ago, he was commenting on something he knows — TV — but what really does he know about finance? Jeff Zucker, NBC Chief Executive, called his remarks “unfair” and “absurd.” So, fine. But where were the people who should have been waving placards at Cramer and his ilk while their hijinx were going down? Where, for example, was Mr. Zucker’s own MSNBC, which has made a fine art of calling out Fox News and CNN when they mess up? Is the difference that CNBC is a sister network? I smell a conflict of interests.
It’s a crazy world we live in when the “legitimate” authorities are giving us shtick, and the mock-newscaster delivers a scoop. But until real journalists are prepared to do their job, I’m content with Stewart’s snake oil.