March 13, 2009

Thursday night’s entire episode of “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” was dedicated to an interview with CNBC’s Jim Cramer, host of “Mad Money,” in which the Comedy Central anchor asked the financial pundit to return to the “fundamentals of reporting.”

Stewart, a de facto media critic, summed up the week-long conflict between his show and CNBC as being about “the gap between what CNBC advertises itself as and what it is, and the help that people need” during these economically challenging times.

Stewart questioned Cramer about his responsibility to viewers of his show, and whether his audience was Wall Street or Main Street.

“The measure of the network and the measure of the man is … whose side are they on?” Stewart said.

Cramer said, “We have reporters who try really hard. We’re not always told the truth. But at the same time the market was going up a long time, and I think our real sin was to believe it could continue to go up more.”

Ignorance was no defense, and neither was settling for the information officials provide. “I’m under the assumption that you don’t just take their word at face value, that you actually then go around and try to figure it out,” Stewart said to audience applause.

Stewart pressed, “What is the responsibility of the people who cover Wall Street? Who are you responsible to?”

“I’m a commentator,” Cramer said. “I’m not Eric Sevareid. I’m not Edward R. Murrow. I’m a guy trying to do an entertainment show about business.”

There was irony in Stewart pressing Cramer on his failings as a financial journalist. Remember when journalists learned that “The Daily Show” was a source of news for many young adults? Stewart insisted he was not a journalist, just as Cramer has insisted he is a commentator.

Stewart acknowledged the irony when he said, “We’re both snake oil salesmen to a certain extent. But we do label the show snake oil here. Isn’t there a problem selling snake oil as vitamin tonic?”

Watch the interview below:

Stewart is not alone in his outrage at people who could have done more to possibly protect Americans and help them understand the growing financial crisis:

Brian Stelter reports in today’s New York Times:

The tabloid media, of course, have always peered into the excesses of the rich and famous with a mix of puritan disapproval and voyeurism. But these outlets and other news organizations are now recording troubling uses of taxpayer money at country clubs, private airports and glamorous retreats and, in so doing, explicitly tapping into a fierce populist anger at corporate America, and even pressuring Congress to hold companies accountable. …

Tabloids aren’t the only ones wagging their fingers. In recent months, network news divisions have relied more heavily on watchdog segments that, producers believe, resonate with viewers who are angry about their own economic status.

Stewart suggested the role a news organization might play in this environment. He said, “It would be a great service to the American public if there was an organization out there, not just the SEC but a news organization that was trying to maintain the intent of this and force companies to still have growth and profit, but not in a way that burns down the entire field.”

Previous coverage of Cramer vs. Stewart:

3/11/2009 “CNBC feels like bizarro world because, in an important sense, it is”
3/9/2009 CNBC now encourages its journalists to speak their minds
3/6/2009 Stewart’s CNBC attack was unfair, but not inaccurate
3/5/2009      CNBC stays mum after takedown by Jon Stewart
3/5/2009 Stewart rips CNBC for eight minutes after Santelli’s a no-show

Previous coverage of CNBC (more):

3/3/2009 CNBC’s Santelli insists his rant was spontaneous
2/23/2009 “I’m just a fired-up kind of guy,” says CNBC’s Santelli
12/1/2008     CNBC is in the process of slashing up to 10% of its budget
11/12/2008 CNBC trims its budget as ratings hit new highs
10/20/2008 Market gyrations have been good for “Mad Money”
10/7/2008 How does CNBC’s Cramer keep his job?
10/6/2008 Why didn’t business journalists see the Wall Street meltdown coming?
7/16/2008 Mortgage mess pundit fails to disclose Fannie, Freddie ties
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Julie Moos (jmoos@poynter.org) has been Director of Poynter Online and Poynter Publications since 2009. Previously, she was Editor of Poynter Online (2007-2009) and Poynter Publications…
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