14 March 2009

Watchmen: Stewart vs. Cramer

Recently, many people are talking about the Jon Stewart (from Comedy Central's The Daily Show with Jon Stewart) vs Jim Cramer (from CNBC's Mad Money) feud, which culminated on 12 March 2009 (which you can watch here).[1] However, the post-interview comments I see are more oriented to how Stewart "owned" Cramer, rather than to tackle the substance of the interview.


On 5 March 2009, Stewart ranted against the quality of CNBC's coverage of the financial crisis and the quality of their financial advice.[2] In one of the many clips showed, Stewart showed a clip from Mad Moeny where Cramer looked like he was recommending that people buy Bear Stearns (whose stock famously collapsed to abysmal levels soon after the clip originally aired). CNBC ignored Stewart's rant, but Cramer defended himself in a piece he wrote for Mainstreet.com, saying he was taken out of context.[3] Stewart retorted, conceded that when taken in context, this particular clip did not show that Cramer was recommending to buy Bear Stearns; rather Cramer was actually saying that if Bear Stearns was your broker, that your money would not disappear, as the value of your stock portfolio doesn't depend on who manages it. But he then went on showing other clips from 5 days earlier, showing Cramer expressing incredible confidence in Bear Stearns, and one from 7 weeks before the collapse who showed Cramer explicitly asking viewers to buy Bear Stearns.[4] Which ultimately lead to Cramer's appearance on The Daily Show.

The interview[1]

After the intros and the initial laughs, Stewart clarified that his intent is not to sully Cramer personally, but that the situation has unfortunately elected Cramer as the scapegoat of CNBC's less-than-optimal coverage and advice. Cramer started by saying that he was one of the good guys, protecting investors from gimmicks and insider tricks (henceforth referred to as "shenanigans", to parrot the term used by both Cramer and Stewart). Cue Stewart showing Cramer explicitly admitting that he not only knew about the shenanigans as early as 2006, but that he too was guilty of "shenaniganning". You got him on tape saying that he did ethically questionable things with his hedge funds (I have no idea what these are and won't pretend I do) and so on.

The interview then evolves into Cramer knee-jerking against Stewart, but upon Stewart quickly pointing out that it's not a personal thing, Cramer just as quickly agrees to debate the implications of these sort of actions (including his own) on the stock industry/economy, and admits that he's at fault and he failed to live up to expectations by both not calling the shenaniganners and being a shenaniganner himself. Cramer then "strikes a deal" with Stewart, saying he'll clean up and will do better in the future.


Now everyone's reaction seems to be "Lol, Stewart pwn'd Cramer". And it's indeed true, if you think of it in terms of a debate, Stewart clearly won and Cramer didn't land even one punch. However, this wasn't a debate in the sense of "Position 1" vs. "Position 2". It was an interview where Stewart asked pretty hard-hitting questions to Cramer about his own behaviour, CNBC's behaviour and financial analysts' behaviour as a whole. And if you look at the interview from the point of view that it wasn't a debate, that this wasn't a clash of viewpoints, then you can see the real impact this interview will/could have.

An appropriate comparison point would be Stewart's appearance on Crossfire, where he exposed Crossfire as being two guys (Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson) pitting the politicians' spin against each other rather than actually debating the merits of the politician's position.[5] Stewart's appearance on the show is credited as being "one of many reasons" for Crossfire's being pulled off air.[6]

However there are differences between Crossfire and Mad Money. Begala and Carlson were unapologetic about their behaviour, and thought they were doing their jobs well. Cramer conceded that he didn't live up to what is expected of him, and is willing to take due blame. At the end of the interview, Cramer didn't pull a Carlson and told Jon to go to hell (I'm paraphrasing), he struck a deal with Jon (and implicitly the public). He wants to clean himself up and make up for the wrong he's done. And he said it with a sincerity you rarely see in people. For this reason alone, Cramer should not be publicly hanged. Jon single handedly (well with the help of his team who help him doing the research I'm sure) took Cramer and his shenanigans and bitchslapped him back onto the righteous path (or at least that's what it seemed to be to me). Cramer stopped being one of "them" (aka evil financial shenaniganners of doom), and became someone with insider information who is now willing to spill the beans.

Many people are now calling for Cramer to resign, others even for CNBC to shut down as a whole.[7] Others, like Alessandra Stanly from the New York Times, simply don't get it. She wrote "Part of Mr. Stewart's frustration may stem from the fact that while he clearly won the debate, Mr. Cramer and CNBC stood to profit from the encounter."[8] What? Stewart's frustration is completely unrelated to whatever the potential benefits for CNBC and Cramer were. His frustration is that they were not doing their jobs of watchmen, but doing the exact opposite by being platforms of financial spin used for market manipulation.

Hopefully Cramer and CNBC will cleanup. Cramer seems to show goodwill, but the NBC conglomerate seems unwilling to even discuss the issue in a straightforward manner. They've asked of their anchors to ignore the story.[9] And their anchors complied (so much for your journalistic integrity Mr. Olbermann). Some even flat-out lied about it, like Joe Scarborough who, when asked about the absence of Cramer on his morning show (Cramer was supposed to show up on his show for post-interview comments), replied "No Cramer. Perhaps another example of oversleeping. Guess he had a late night."[9]

I guess the ball lies in Cramer's court now.


[1] The Daily Show (12 March 2009). "12 March 2009 episode", Comedy Central. Accessed 14 March 2009.
[2] The Daily Show (4 March 2009). "4 March 2009 episode (Clip 1 of 4)", Comedy Central. Accessed 14 March 2009.
[3] Jim Cramer (10 March 2009). "Cramer Takes on the White House, Frank Rich and Jon Stewart", Mainstream. Accessed 14 March 2009.
[4] The Daily Show (9 March 2009). "9 March 2009 episode (Clip 1 of 4)", Comedy Central. Accessed 14 March 2009.
[5] Crossfire (15 October 2004). "15 October 2004 episode", CNN. Accessed 14 March 2009.
[6] Ken Fisher (6 January 2005). "Jon Stewart wins, CNN cancels Crossfire", Ars Technica. Accessed 14 March 2009.
[7] Personal conversations with friends and acquaintances.
[8] Alessandra Stanley (14 March 2009). "High Noon on the Set: Cramer vs. Stewart ", New York Times. Accessed 14 March 2009.
[9] Steve Krakauer (13 March 2009). "MSNBC Producers Asked Not To Highlight Cramer/Stewart", Mediabistro. Accessed 14 March 2009.


  1. Good summary. I guess so many people focused on the "owning" done by Stewart b/c he handled it all so deftly and the evidence was quite damning.

    I was quite shocked to see a tv personality actually show remorse and admit to wrong-doing and pledge to do better. Its quite rare, and I do hope that its not a stunt he's pulling. This is the kind of moral advancement we need in media, and society.

  2. Yeah, Headbomb, I would be willing to cut Cramer some slack... except that the next day on his show he said the equivalent of "well it was very uncomfortable having my ass handed to me on a platter, but now back to business as usual." He hasn't changed a thing, and I didn't expect him to. The guy is the same scum he was a week ago. He acted contrite on the Daily Show because Jon Stewart, who is smarter, more honest and much better-prepared, backed him into a completely indefensible corner and embarrassed him in front of millions.

    (BTW this is Wanderer from the SRF)