I've actually dealt with Jim Cramer on a professional level before, so I was not at all shocked to see him show up, guns blazing, and...take his beating like a good little boy.
Cramer's a nice guy. He has an uncharted hyperactivity quotient and the volume of a colicky infant, but he's able to tone it down for the rest of us mortals when he's not on his stage. He knew whose house he was in last night. Look at how he approaches the table when he's introduced. He almost bows to Stewart. Like a young man knowing he's gonna get it when he gets home, Cramer knew he was wrong, and the only decision he had left was how he was going to face the music.
What was interesting was how Stewart chose to play the song. He could've just squashed the whole thing. But in a bizarro world in which cable news becomes more theatrical, reactionary and ridiculous by the day, Stewart has to know his "Daily Show" is becoming more a news program than the news itself. And in a world in which guys like Olbermann and O'Reilly are known more and more for their histrionics than their ability to report the news, it's up to the comedian to be the journalist.
Still, some weren't impressed. Megan McArdle disagrees with me and other that think Jon Stewart was practicing journalism (at some level):
I'm very sympathetic to Stewart's deep critique of financial shows, but I don't think the way to go about it was to string together a bunch of very misleading clips. Nor to imply that Santelli, who has been vocally against all bailouts from the beginning, was merely frothing on the forclosure program because ordinary taxpayers were finally getting a taste of federal largesse. But Stewart carefully claims he's just an entertainer, so he has no obligation to hew to journalistic standards on things like quoting out of context.
Financial journalism isn't, as Stewart argues to Cramer over and over, entertainment. So how come Stewart acted as if it was?
In all of this, I find myself unsatisfied by the critique. For me, the investigation always begins at home--Who are we? Why is there a market for foolishness? I don't know much about the financial world. I come to this equipped solely with the weaponry I was deeded by the streets of Baltimore, and in the home of Cheryl Waters and Paul Coates. The shield in that arsenal, is the intuitive sense that no one gives you a house for nothing, that you don't base your future on advice from the dude who cameos on Arrested Development. Nothing special there. I think we all have access to the shield of Street Knowledge, and yet in these times, we seem to have put our faith, not in our innate sense, but in the worst sort of clownery.
I like Jon Stewart. I thought he did a good thing yesterday. But I left that interview unsatisfied. I left it wondering about the animal in us I know who Jim Cramer is. I know what wracks him. But what about us? Who are we in all this? Why are CNBC ratings still soaring? What madness has led us to hand off our shields and put our future in the hands of shaman and faith-healers?
I agree, but that said, we can still appreciate the interview for what it was: both a Howard Beale cry to placate the masses and a Schadenfreude-heavy spectacle of entertainment. That's at minimum. Andrew Sullivan believes this was a seminal moment:
It's not enough any more, guys, to make fantastic errors and then to carry on authoritatively as if nothing just happened. You will be called on it. In some ways, the blogosphere is to MSM punditry what Stewart is to Cramer: an insistent and vulgar demand for some responsibility, some moral and ethical accountabilty for previous decisions and pronouncements.
Braver, please. And louder.