Posted by: mutantpoodle | March 13, 2009

Has Jon Stewart destroyed CNBC?

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Well, one can only hope.

I wonder, at the end of the day, how many people will watch Stewart’s takedown of Jim Cramer. (Part 3 above – unedited and unbleeped; part 1 here, part 2 here.) Certainly it’s the water-cooler topic du jour, and I suspect was not alone in three thoughts that rattled around in my head as I watched the TV version last night. (The online clips are unedited and uncensored.)

First, CNBC’s sin was no different from the sins of the conventional media with respect to George Bush and the Iraq war. CNBC’s idolatry was a bit more front and center, but the happy acceptance of what turned out to be (and was, in real time, largely identifiable as) self-serving bullshit was depressingly familiar.

Second, have Jon Stewart’s powers to kill godawful television shows waned in the last five years? Recall that after his merciless takedown of Crossfire – sitting next to Tucker Carlson and Paul Begala – the show closed up shop mere months later.

Third, why is it that we rely on comedians for the courage to speak truth to power? It was Stephen Colbert, after all, who eviscerated George Bush (and was largely pilloried by the media establishment for doing so) at the White House Correspondent’s Dinner two years ago, and did so with Bush less than 10 feet away. And it was Stewart, last night, expressing the rage of a nation at the clubbish insularity of a network that was puffing up a “populist” rant by a self-important jerk whose rage that “losers” who couldn’t pay their mortgages might get some government help, as opposed to those winning financial firms whose keen intellect and superior judgment have left them, for all practical purposes, insolvent and hitting up the Secretary of the Treasury for another TARP hit, like some pathetic junkie jonesing for another fix.Looking at some of the summary reactions, the two twitter feeds that caught my eye were Roland Hedley…

Watched Cramer crush Stewart. Brutal takedown, IMHO. (Okay, didn’t actually watch it myself, but that’s what twitter’s for. Thanks, guys!”)

…and, for a different kind of cluelessness, Joe Scarborough

Cramer just sat there and took his medicine. He’s clearly shaken that his fellow Democrats have turned on him.

Remind me again – this became a Democrat-Republican thing when?*

Folks tried to make Rick Santelli into a populist hero, but it was Jon Stewart who more aptly expressed the rage at the cluelessness of the club that is Wall Street. And, to the first part of Scarborough’s point, Cramer sat there and took it. (It should have been Santelli, but the cowardly weasel backed out.)

But back to the question: whither CNBC?

First, no one’s going to cancel a damned network. But no one will ever look at CNBC the same way again. And maybe, given that their core audience is traders, they don’t have to change.

But Cramer – Cramer was their populist outreach. He was the guy who let us outsiders into the club (never mind that you’d do better to pick against him than with him), and last night he had no retort – what response could you have, really? – when Jon Stewart pointed out that financial advice “isn’t a fucking game.”

I referred to CNBC as Wall Street’s house organ a few days ago, and since that’s their business model, I don’t see how they can do a 180. (Having worked in entertainment, I am all too familiar with that industry’s versions – Variety and the Hollywood Reporter – both of which will, on occasion, commit journalism, but mostly exist as symbiotic partners to the industry they “cover”.)

However, the cognitive disconnect between being a supplicant to Wall Street when it’s clear that they were fucking up for years and cleaning up in the process; when those who did the most damage are escaping serious punishment; and when the audience you want to reach outside of the insiders is mad as hell – well, something’s gotta give.

My guess is that CNBC might try to practice a bit more journalism going forward, and that Jim Cramer will become more hard-hitting and populist on his show.

But don’t expect him back with Jon Stewart anytime soon.

*I should note that Cramer is famously a Democrat, although how that means a liberal like Jon Stewart should go easy on him baffles me.

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