Jon Stewart is a man who doesn't fuck around.
Ok, that's not exactly true. He fucks around a lot. He's famous for it. Most days out of the year, he's mostly comedian, with a scant trace of journalist. And he's serious about comedy, no doubts, but he clearly has a lot of fun at his job and had a lot of fun in particular at the expense of one Jim Cramer.
And Cramer is an easy target. There's a reason why, of all of the financial news guys at CNBC, he was the one who they got to do a cameo in Iron Man upbraiding Tony Stark for what his decision to get out of the weapons game means for his shareholders. For the record? I enjoy Cramer's show immensely. But I don't ride any of my fucking money on his advice. His reporting style is a cross between that of Stewart's typical fare, and that of drive-time radio. He's a clown. And to his credit, he personally recognizes that. But not everyone who watches him does. CNBC certainly doesn't. And while he's not the one saying "In Cramer We Trust," I've yet to hear him complain. And it takes a special kind of ego to not be discomfited by that kind of messianic promotion. Personally, I have a fairly significant ego and nonetheless don't take praise very well.
But this isn't about Jim Cramer. It's not even about CNBC, who have a lot of people who did a lot of bad reporting leading up to the financial crisis. This is about journalism. This is about the responsibility that comes with access to movers and shakers; with the protection against being forced to reveal sources; with the podium and the audience and the respect and the paychecks. And Jim Cramer clearly came into the room thinking that this would end with him getting scuffed up, but in the end be a PR win, because Jon Stewart is bigger than him and in TV, eyeballs trickle down.
It didn't take long for him to know what he had really gotten himself into though.
Ana Marie Cox, who I have been following religiously on twitter and her Air America audioblog, had this to say.
This is, as Andrew Sullivan (hulu video of the broadcast can be found there, but above I've embedded the uncut interview, in case you haven't played it yet) noted, a "real cultural moment. It was a storming of the Bastille"
Specifically, it could be referred to as two sequels.
Before it aired, people were already drawing comparisons to the spate he had with Tucker Carlson and Paul Begala. And it is. I would submit that this time he did a far better job this time than he did last time. And last time, Paul and Tucker lost their jobs.
But this became something else. This became Part 2 of a day of reckoning for mass media. This financial disaster is for the business press what the Iraq War was for the rest of it
Our mainstream media has been fucking us since the nineties and has only recently started to come around.
Ok, I'm not going to rephrase that sentence, but I am going to say the implication there was something that only came after I read that line aloud to myself.
It started with the Lewinski scandal. Keith Olbermann, one of my heroes as a political commentator, quit his job at MSNBC because his job had become all Monica, all the time, while his producers were making him turn away experts who wanted DESPARATELY to go on the air and talk about Islamic terror groups. It also rendered it politically impossible to go after Bush for his actual abuses of power. They fucked us again when they bought into and re-sold the idea that Al Gore and George W Bush were interchangeable as candidates. To be fair, Al Gore had a non-trivial hand in the country's failure to see the distinction (even though I was quite able to recognize it at the time-- I was 14), but the story that America was desperate for a third option, whether it be Nader or McCain, both of whom have since showed themselves to be utter fuckwits at best and consciously nihilistic in terms of the public good at worst.
And then came the Bush presidency. At a time when everyone in the country was tuning in to watch the news after 9/11, the press at large was openly sycophantic to the Bushies and as a result, so was the public. A friend of mine lost his public speaking contests in high school not because he was a poor speaker or speechwriter, because he dared speak ill of the Patriot Act. Bill Mahr lost his job for making a politically incorrect statement on a show called Politically Incorrect. When it came time to begin the saber-rattling in Iraq, the media consciously failed to report on clear signs that the whole thing was bogus. They didn't think that We, the People would look favorably upon them if they told us the truth, so they didn't look for it. And while this was going on, the right wing dittoheads were still referring to the MSM as the "liberal media," to which they responded by allowing themselves to be further cowed.
On the financial side, well, does anyone remember watching financial news in the 90s? I sure as fuck do.
When I was a kid, my grandfather bought me three hundred dollars' worth of stock in AT&T. To help teach me the value of a dollar. I started to pay attention when my mother started having me sign the 20 and 30 cent dividend checks that they mailed me quarterly, and I saw the numbers on them increasing, eventually peaking at 3.3o.
From that point on my perusal of the newspaper moved from simply comics and sports to include the Business section, and occasionally the national section. I also watched the financial news on TV. As I watched my stock grow from the three hundred dollars to four thousand and beyond, splitting, spinning off, redoubling all the way, The TV was having me believe that there was no end in sight. For a long while I believed it. So did a lot of people.
Recognizing at a point that my gains were on paper only, and that by the very nature of the beast one needed to sell in order to make actual profit, I wondered to myself when, exactly, the time would come for me to cash in. I was told that AT&T was reliable. That I likely wouldn't have to until the time came when I needed the money for college, or a house, or a car.
But I was following the ebb and flow of the stock market every day. Not only AT&T and its spun-off companies, but also its competitors, and related stocks in the tech sector and elsewhere. I didn't have a nuanced or comprehensive knowledge of the markets, but I did have a highly developed sense of pattern recognition. And what I saw was that it was past its peak.
Which isn't at all what the networks were saying. And it was and is in their financial interest not to. The advertising on financial networks comes from brokerage services, who make their dollars on the premise that, as Stewart noted, that you can get rich without actually doing anything. This was always the case. But with the castration of regulatory bodies as overseen by Phil Gramm in the second half of the Clinton years, there was no one left guarding the henhouse but the fox. Which isn't to say Fox Business Channel, which has only come out of this unscathed because of its utter lack of relevance.
While the press at large were having their mea culpa moments about Iraq, the same fuckery that had always been going on in the financial news continued. As was illustrated by Stewart, people like Cramer knew what was going on, because they'd been on the inside. And yet they still didn't do the diligence when they sat down with their former employers (and then sponsors) to interview for stories, when they were abundantly aware that there was a motive for and a culture of foul play in the marketplace.
But now, this journalistic practice-- inept at its best and malignant at its worst-- can't help but be noticed. And Jon Stewart just fired the first notable salvo. This is, as it stands, the mark to beat in terms of confrontational interviews by journalists in 2009. It is the wit and outrage of an expert comedian put towards its best possible ends
Who's up next?