Monday, March 16, 2009

A Great Analogy

It seems that the discussion is continuing regarding the Stewart vs. Cramer feud from last week, a feud that began with Jon Stewart calling out Rick Santelli's rant (which not surprisingly, was championed by the far right) in which he called out home-owners for taking bad mortgages and neglects to blame the banks and brokers that provided the bad loans. As I'm sure you know by now, Cramer fights back and a feud broke out between the two men which culminated with Cramer coming on Stewart's "The Daily Show" last thursday, which if you haven't seen is available here unedited, which is important since the actual broadcast of the appearance was pretty heavily edited.

Now let me preface this by saying that I enjoy the work of both men. I find Jim Cramer to be quite entertaining on Mad Money, and I find that you don't need a degree from the London School of Economics to follow his logic, its an investment show for the every-man and I enjoy it. Likewise, I think Jon Stewart is simply brilliant and his comedic analysis of the day's news is strangely better than anything CNN, FNC, or even CNBC are pumping out in my humble opinion. I like the work of both men, and don't have a dog in this fight.

But it was quite obvious from the get-go that Stewart was going to win this battle, as Cramer looked oddly sheepish at times, and the pundits almost universally agree that the "victor" was Jon Stewart. And while this is all well and good, I think it overshadows the message of what Stewart was actually trying to get at, mainly that CNBC should feel some responsibility to actually investigate what has been going on and instead of cheerleading the boom market, maybe look for the signs that things are about to go south and warn people.

I think it's an interesting discussion. CNBC is a privately owned cable television network, so what is their obligation to the public? It can't be any more or less than that of Comedy Central, which brings us public services such as "A Roast To Larry The Cable Guy" and monthly airings of PCU. And while I believe that The Daily Show is in fact a public service, Comedy Central doesn't air it for that reason-they air it because it makes them money. Likewise for CNBC and 'Mad Money.' Now is it dishonest the way they position and advertise Mad Money? I think it is, but this reminds me of the Jon Stewart vs. Tucker Carlson blow up from 2004 in which Stewart criticizes the program 'Crossfire' for encouraging partisan hackery (true) and the media at large for throwing softball questions at politicians (also true) but when confronted with his doing the same hides behind the fact that he does a comedy show, which is true, but you can't question what CNN/FNC do when you do the same thing....its likewise disingenuous. While it may be a comedy show, Stewart and The Daily Show have emerged as an important part of the public sphere, as assinine as that sounds.

Which leads us to the analogy I led off with. I earlier heard Bob Sturm make the analogy that this is akin to the baseball writers neglecting to report that the players were doing steroids, despite how obvious it was to them, and then when it finally does come out turning around and blaming everyone but themselves. I think the analogy is dead on.

A writer is either employed by the club (especially here in the .com era) or relies heavily on the club or MLB at large to provide them access to the players, to the locker room, and to the ballpark. If a writer gets blackballed and can't get a player interview or worse-can't go to the games-then that writer will quickly find himself unemployed. Thus despite how obvious it was the writers, especially being in the clubhouse, that steroids were running rampant in baseball for the latter half of the '80s, the entirety of the '90s, and the first part of the '00s the writers remained mum until it became such a story that they didn't have to fear for their jobs (remember how Jose Canseco was ostracized for telling the truth?). Likewise with "the media" you've got writers/anchors/talking heads employed by huge conglomerates with their financial fingers in all sorts of pies, and those companies would most likely frown on someone reporting that this entire bull market was little but a house of cards. So until the shit hit the proverbial fan and the reporters had no choice but to report on it, everyone remained mum and cheerled the unprecedented economic boom which would surely never bust. And it is for this reason, that I find myself siding with Stewart.

I don't believe that CNBC has an "obligation" be the watchdog the Federal regulators failed so badly at being, but I do think people should walk away from this economic disaster and know that CNBC-and the media at large-played a very large role in turning a blind eye to the underbelly of the economic house of cards, and remember that. I love Jim Cramer, but if you're putting all your financial eggs in the basket of a guy that throws plastic toys at the screen, hits sound effects, and considers himself the president of "Cramerica" then perhaps you deserve what you're getting. Mad Money is a great starting point, no doubt, but its just that and should be followed with due diligence.

I refuse to believe that with the sheer number of "economic experts" in this country, from the cast of CNBC down to your broker, that no one saw this coming. People did and were refused a platform to get the message out (it wouldve most likely fallen on deaf ears anyway, to be fair), and those whom could have actually been heard (and taken seriously) just got too caught up in the boom market to address reality. It was inevitable, in retrospect, but that doesn't mean that we can't learn lessons from it-and actually try to remember them when the next bull market occurs.

1 comment:

southwick said...

I get the John Stewart thing, but so often its hard for me to take these types of "news" shows seriously.

Too often they seem to play the comedy show card, only to flip on the serious show switch on a guest.

That has been driving me crazy about J. Stewart since his last rant at Reporters. The man runs a farcical news show, but then wants to be taken seriously. When the heat is turned on him though, its a joke show. Its a safe bet, and unfortunately at times reminds me of Bill Maher.

The Daily Show has a purpose, and it skates a fine line, sometimes I just don't respect it though.

Oh and my captcha is MONERAT.
Is that like Monorail for rodents?