Jon Stewart ignited a talk-show feud when he said that if he’d listened to CNBC’s Jim Cramer’s financial advice, “I’d have a million dollars today—provided I’d started with $100 million.”
The two entertainers sparred between networks for days, until Stewart invited Cramer to the “The Daily Show” so they could spar in person. According to the L.A. Times, Stewart made mince meat out of Cramer. Then again, that’s what Stewart does best—with a whopping dose of humor and not inconsequential sex appeal.
Stewart’s point this time was much the same, that CNBC practiced irresponsible journalism,while selling itself as a source of superior insight and information. “You should be buying things and accept that they’re overvalued but accept that they’re going to keep going higher,” Cramer said in one of the clips Stewart had earlier hurled against him, noting “I probably wouldn’t have a problem with CNBC if Cramer’s slogan was ‘Cramer: He’s right sometimes,’ or ‘Cramer: He’s like a dartboard that talks.’ “
Although Stewart took some care to separate Cramer, personally, from his larger attack on CNBC—whose misrepresentation of the financial crisis as “some sort of crazy once-in-a-lifetime tsunami that nobody could have seen coming” he called “disingenuous at best and criminal at worst” —the net he was throwing was certainly meant to include him.
Earlier in the day, Cramer had appeared on “The Martha Stewart Show” and had admitted that he was “a little nervous” about going on “The Daily Show.” “You should be nervous,” Martha Stewart replied, and indeed there was something in his bearing last night that reminded one of a small boy reluctantly called before the school principal. Cramer is a star in his own world, but in the larger hierarchy of cable TV and pop-political culture, “The Daily Show” ranks higher than “Mad Money.” And though he had told Martha Stewart earlier that “I’m going to have to fight back. I’m not a doormat,” he came off rather as chastened, conciliatory, pleading and overwhelmed:
“I try really hard to make as many good calls as I can.”
“I should do a better job.”
“I wish I’d done a better job.”
“I’m trying. I’m trying.”
Jon Stewart had a home-court advantage, of course, as well as a few damning clips, not meant for broadcast, of Cramer describing, in a positive way, certain barely to not-even-barely legal things a hedge fund manager might do to work the market to his advantage. And he also had editorial control—the interview that went out over the air was cut for time; Cramer comes off somewhat better in the complete exchange, which is available online. But what makes Stewart formidable is that he also has a passion greater than the irony in which it is often couched.
“I understand you want to make finance entertaining,” he said, “but ... you knew what the banks were doing and yet were touting it for months and months. ... These guys were on a Sherman’s March through their companies financed by our 401Ks, and all the incentives for their companies were for short term ... and they ... walked away rich as hell. And you guys knew it was going on.”
Closing the show, Stewart added, “I hope that was as uncomfortable to watch as it was to do.”