“Cramer vs. Not Cramer”

CNBC's court jester faces off with Jon Stewart

So CNBC’s Jim Cramer has agreed to sit down with Jon Stewart and The Daily Show on Thursday in what ought to be the most-anticipated thing on teevee since the last time everybody tuned into one of those talent shows I don’t watch.

Here’s a brief history of what The Daily Show is calling “Cramer vs. Not Cramer: Basic Cable Personality Clash Skirmish ‘09!”:

Stewart just laid the boom on CNBC last week, a segment I praised here. That came the day CNBC’s Rick “the Losers” Santelli had been scheduled to appear on The Daily Show but backed out. Santelli and Cramer both came in for a beating.

Cramer griped that Stewart had taken him out of context on his miserable call on Bear Stearns. Stewart fired back at Cramer and CNBC the next day. He nailed Cramer on Bear and then dug into CNBC on its programming, saying he’d be glad to have anybody on his show to debate, including the network’s:

Five Bald Guys Who Make Noise About Money, CNBC’s famed Money Monkey… or my go-to guru for all things finance: the Stock-Pickin’ Chicken”

But Cramer is thin-skinned, (read this awesome piece Dean Starkman wrote about his feud with Barron’s) and went on an NBC network media tour to fight back against Stewart.

Bad idea.

Here’s the relevant Daily Show clip from last night:

It’s not quite as brilliant as last week’s taking apart of CNBC, but not much could be.

Here’s the LA Times’s (which broker the news) lede today:

Jon Stewart didn’t take kindly to CNBC pundit Jim Cramer dismissing his Comedy Central program as a mere “variety show.”

“You make me sound like I’m some kind of buffoon, just flapping my arms with crazy buttons and wacky sound effects,” the host of “The Daily Show” said Tuesday night. He then cut to a clip of Cramer on his CNBC show “Mad Money,” punching buttons that make wacky sound effects.

Later in the segment, Stewart says he flipped to “Morning Joe” the day before (because he “likes his news like he likes his coffee: white and bitter”) only to see Joe Scarborough asking why Stewart doesn’t tell us where the stock market will go in five or ten years, which is a moronic question—and a perfect setup for Stewart:

But I don’t know. I don’t know what the markets are going to do. I don’t know about the markets. That’s why I don’t make the claim to any authority. That’s why my network doesn’t have the slogan “In Stewart We Trust” (video of CNBC promo reading “In Cramer We Trust”). They don’t want people to think I’m God.

Now, of course, I probably wouldn’t have a problem with CNBC if Cramer’s slogan was “Cramer: He’s Right Sometimes” or “He’s Like a Dartboard That Talks” or “You Feel Lucky, Punk? Well, Do You?”

Stewart is right that stock-picking is largely a fool’s game, especially for the vast majority of folks who aren’t getting inside information, excuse me, rumors.

Remember The Wall Street Journal’s dartboard contest? About 40 percent of the time, throwing darts at the stock table resulted in better returns than the professionals choices—and the amateurs beat the pros quite a bit, too. Research suggests that the darts would have won more often if rules had eliminated certain unfair advantages of the pros’ picks.

But you might as well be talking a different language to CNBC. That kind of thinking is antithetical to its existence.

And so, that is what sets up this must-watch TV for tomorrow night. It’s a battle of wits (Stewart is one of the best interviewers around, and Cramer is no dummy—and knows how to play the “poor-me” card), but it’s also a clash of cultures.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at rc2538@columbia.edu. Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.