Watching Stewart-v-Cramer with Wall Streeters and Working Folks
CNBC cheerleader-in-chief Jim Cramer's appearance on Comedy Central's "The Daily Show" grabbed the attention of Wall Street, where inside traders watched with a mix of horror and fascination as host Jon Stewart revealed the secrets of the temple.
There was a measure of amazement at the fact that someone in major media -- even if that someone was self-deprecating comedian Jon Stewart -- was acknowledging that a decade of anti-journalistic financial news had lured unsuspecting Americans into investments that banks and brokers had to know were unsound. (As Canada's Globe and Mail newspaper observed: "It took a jester to point the finger.")
Of course, Stewart was not playing the part of a comedian when he grilled Cramer about the journalistic crimes of so-called "business news" networks that encouraged working Americans to empty their savings into the glorified Ponzi schemes of Wall Street insiders and the 401(k) crooks with whom they conspired. He was doing what journalists are supposed to do, calling out a huckster, declaring that: "Listen, you knew what the banks were doing, and yet were touting it for months and months - the entire network was. So now to pretend that this was some crazy, once-in-a-lifetime tsunami that no one could have seen coming was disingenuous at best and criminal at worst."
The Comedy Central host hit the nail on the head when he accused the CNBC host of pitching "snake oil as vitamin tonic."
That isn't the sort of talk bankers and brokers are used to hearing. It frightens them -- not because it isn't true, but because the great mass of Americans aren't supposed to be let in on the secret.
So the business press was agog.
Wall Street riveted by comedy clash," headlined the Financial Times.
FoxBusiness.com picked up a Marketwatch piece and bemoaned the fact that "CNBC's Dilemma Is To Make a Recession Seem Entertaining".
The whole meltdown smackdown was such a big deal that the Wall Street Journal even found a way to make money by packaging a particularly embarrassing clip for Cramer with an ad for the Burberry spring and summer men's clothing collection.
Anything to keep the TARP profiteers amused.
But the most meaningful reaction came from ACORN, the nation's largest community organization of low- and moderate-income families, which has been leading the fight to protect homeowners threatened with foreclosure. ACORN (the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) has been under attack by much of the business media -- and its allies in Congress -- since the start of the current crisis.
In an attempt to deflect blame from the profiteers who preyed on working families with irresponsible loan offers and unsustainable "retirement plan," politicians and commentators have tried to claim that ACORN caused the crisis by advocating for an end to redlining and other lending practices that discriminated against the poor in general and people of color in particular.
The crude lie that would blame victims for being victimized has only rarely been challenged in mainstream media.
But Stewart addressed it with an intensity and focus that drew raves from Bertha Lewis, ACORN's and chief organizer.
Lewis hailed Stewart for "taking on the banks, speculators, and financial commentators who caused this economic crisis."
In particular, the ACORN CEO celebrated Stewart's comment that: "This thing was 10 years in the making ... The idea that you could have on the guys from Bear Stearns and Merrill Lynch and guys that had leveraged 35 to 1 and then blame mortgage holders, that's insane."
Noting that Stewart's now "being attacked by those who prefer to blame the crisis on hard working Americans" -- "the New York Times lectured Jon Stewart because he 'treated his guest like a C.E.O. subpoenaed to testify before Congress -- his point was not to hear Mr. Cramer out, but to act out a cathartic ritual of indignation and castigation'" -- Lewis responded: "That's right. Jon Stewart is angry -- and so are we. We're angry at the speculators and banks that got us into this mess and we're angry at the media and government that looked the other way."
© 2009 The Nation