There’s not much to say about Cramer v. Stewart that hasn’t already been said elsewhere. It seems everyone, everywhere is all over this one, which Stewart utterly dominated.
But let’s take a closer look at the coverage of the showdown.
Not so good.
Here’s former New York Times reporter Sharon Waxman at her newish site The Wrap, who leads with what she calls a bad PR move by Cramer to even go on the show, and shows that she’s probably better off sticking to Hollywood coverage:
The most damaging material came quickly – tape of Cramer recommending that investors sell stocks short, and admitting that he did it himself.
Oh no! Selling stocks short? And admitting it on tape? Why would Cramer do such a thing?
Well, shorting stocks is a perfectly legitimate activity. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with it. It’s a bet that a stock will go down, no morally different than a bet that a stock will go up.
What Cramer was talking about on the TheStreet.com video Stewart showed was something nefarious, though. It showed Cramer talking about how he illegally manipulated the market when he ran a hedge fund and how he recommends that everybody do it—even recommending a specific company to do it to.
That’s a big no-no, and it’s simply amazing that Cramer let himself be recorded discussing it. But he could just as easily manipulate stocks upward as he could downward. The short/long part is immaterial.
Waxman’s former colleague, Alessandra Stanley of the Times, is also off-base in her superficial review of the program, reviewing it as if it were just another ratings ploy and missing entirely what an important moment this is in the crisis and our conception of it. She moans that Stewart didn’t yuk it up as much as he normally does:
And while it’s never much fun to watch a comedian lose his sense of humor, in an economic crisis, it’s even sadder to see supposed financial clairvoyants acting like clowns.
That myopia reminds me of Stewart’s single-handed destruction of Tucker Carlson and Paul Begala on CNN’s Crossfire program back in 2004:
STEWART: You know, the interesting thing I have is, you have a responsibility to the public discourse, and you fail miserably.
CARLSON: You need to get a job at a journalism school, I think.
STEWART: You need to go to one. The thing that I want to say is, when you have people on for just knee-jerk, reactionary talk…
CARLSON: Wait. I thought you were going to be funny. Come on. Be funny.
STEWART: No. No. I’m not going to be your monkey.
The truth is that this was some of the most gripping television since, well, Stewart’s searing criticism got Crossfire canceled.
And Stanley is just wrong here—CNBC has been trying to extricate itself for a while now from the mess it made promoting Rick Santelli’s lame outburst:
Mr. Cramer tried to be friendly and looked a little taken aback by Mr. Stewart’s prosecutorial tone — he may have been expecting a more jocular give-and-take. But mostly, he sat back and milked every last drop from a tempest-in-a-cablebox that NBC and its sister channels have been fanning ever since the “Daily Show” host began hammering CNBC for its complacent Wall Street coverage, singling out embarrassing market calls by Mr. Cramer in particular.
No, no. This is a public-relations disaster (as well as an existential crisis)—one that was easily foreseen—for CNBC and it knows it. That’s why it yanked Santelli off a scheduled Daily Show appearance in the first place.
Here’s Stanley’s kicker:
Mr. Stewart kept getting the last word, but Mr. Cramer may yet have the last laugh.
Wrong. I mean, come on. Cramer will probably survive this but he has been chastened at the very least. The man acted like a little boy in the principal’s office caught red-handed cheating on a test. Cramer knows this is dead serious. Why doesn’t Stanley the critic?
I think we can all agree, at this late date, that writing about the crisis as if it were a game—picking over procedure and making it a horse race—is a mistake.