[13 March 2009]
Chicago Tribune (MCT)
Delivering to Jim Cramer a show-long lecture about the responsibilities of a financial news network, Jon Stewart positioned himself as the thinking man’s Rick Santelli, as a guy who’s also mad as hell, but at the people who deserve the ire.
In the much anticipated Cramer vs. Stewart showdown on “The Daily Show” Thursday night after a week of public back-and-forth, Stewart wore the populist hat CNBC reporter Santelli tried to don a couple of weeks ago in delivering an on-air “rant,” as Santelli called it, against irresponsible mortgage takers.
“They burned the (bleeping) house down with our money,” Stewart said, seething, of Wall Street insiders who turned piles of dubious loans into instruments of short-term profit, “and walked away rich as hell, and you guys knew that that was going on.”
The crowd at Comedy Central’s studio cheered because it was good populism, well aimed and well delivered. And Cramer, the usually peripatetic host of CNBC’s “Mad Money,” sat and took it, mostly, like a schoolboy willing to let the teacher go on in hopes of still being allowed to graduate.
Stewart creamed him, if anything almost to a fault. He urged Cramer and his news-channel brethren to report rather than blindly trust what CEOs say (Cramer’s primary defense of CNBC’s lack of vigilance). But, really, Stewart didn’t report himself; he delivered a 22-minute opinion column, occasionally interrupted by Cramer shoulder shrugs, “OKs,” and mea culpas plus, bringing in financial TV in general, wea culpas.
Not that Cramer had much defense to offer. This was his response to the burning down the house comment, Stewart’s most passionate: “OK. Alright. I have a wall of shame (on the show). Why do I have banana cream pies? ‘Cause I throw them at CEOs. Do you know how many times I have ‘pantsed’ CEOs on my show?”
That’s not a defense. It’s another count in the indictment, an admission to not taking this stuff as seriously as, we now see, it ought to have been taken.
“It feels like we are capitalizing your adventure,” Stewart said to Cramer, a former trader who, Thursday morning, appeared on a show with - no joke - convicted criminal Martha Stewart, pounding dough, little gifts that Stewart’s writers did not fail to unwrap.
But this really wasn’t about getting laughs. Right before the burning house remark, the man Cramer had derisively called a “comedian” showed a video clip of Cramer talking about how to manipulate stock and said, “I understand you want to make finance entertaining, but it’s not a (bleeping) game ... I can’t tell you how angry that makes me, because what it says to me is you all know ... (There’s) a game you know is going on but that you go on television as a financial network and pretend it isn’t happening.”
He called it “this weird Wall Street side bet” happening on top of, and dwarfing, the public game of whether stock A or B is headed up or down. He kept the focus, almost unrelentingly, on the Wall Street gamesmen and women who turned bad mortgages into epic disaster and, to his credit, tried to indict Cramer and his colleagues en masse, and for failing a broader civic duty.
“I hope that was as uncomfortable to watch as it was to do,” Stewart said when it was over.
That, Mr. Santelli, is how you do populist. See the difference between that and standing in a roomful of traders, going after a guy whose house maybe had two more bathrooms than he should have been able to afford?
Funny side note: Late in the show, as things were winding down, ads came on successively for Bank of America, which has seen its stuck tumble in the crisis as it bought more troubled financial firms, and for Apple, the stock of which Cramer seemingly talked about being able to influence in one of “Daily Show’s” clips.