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Battle Of the Basic Cable Stars

March 16, 2009


If you’ve been paying any sort of attention to any media within the last few days you’ve probably heard of this feud between CNBC Mad Money host Jim Cramer and Comedy Central The Daily Show host Jon Stewart. From what I can gather it all started with this little clip. The entire staff of CNBC seemed to balk afterwards, with this retort as Jim Cramer sheepishly stood by.  Well the entire event escalated into a showdown between the two last night (3/12/09) on the regularly scheduled The Daily Show (which you can watch in its unedited versionherehere, and here). After watching the pinnacle of this week long debate, I walked away feeling both parties had good points, and I couldn’t help but feel that in the end there was not much more than a stale mate. But before entering into my own comments I want to try to sum up the argument of each opposing side. 
It seems to me that Jon Stewart’s main point is that CNBC should act like the resource it is built to be. A news station, aimed at informing the viewer in all things economic. Shows like “Mad Money”, “Fast Money”, etc… serve to “sell snake oil” to it’s viewers, all while disguising itself as “news”. He also wags a stiff finger at the network, accusing them of manipulating the economic environment from behind the scenes, all while hiding the works from the public. 
From the Cramer perspective he seems to sheepishly admit that he, and other financial analysts make a mistakes. They try to stay away from making mistakes, but even the best of the best couldn’t have foreseen what has happened in the last few months. He also points out that it’s part of human nature to want to make quick money. And as long as there is an audience for show like Mad Money, there will be entertainers such as him selling to them. 
My first problem is the argument that CNBC should be a clear cut financial news source. No television station is ever going to be a completely objective source of information. From the interviewee, to the reporter, to the writer, to the producer, to the viewer; there are too many hands a source of information passes through, and therefore can never truly be objective. People tune into The Daily Show for entertainment and receive a side dose of news, and on that same token people tune into CNBC for financial news, but will inevitably receive a side dose of entertainment. That’s the stone cold truth about television, it’s a vehicle for ads sales, and therefore will always try to attract an audience anyway possible. So in conclusion I agree with Jon Stewart in the sense that CNBC should stop advertising itself as the financial experts, and advertise themselves for what they truly are: entertainment. 
Secondly, I think Jon Stewart puts too much blame on Cramer for brainwashing his viewers in their stock picks. My Dad always says that investing is more or less gambling. You’re putting money into a horse that you think will win. Even the best brains on Wallstreet lose from time to time. The stock exchange isn’t a sure bet by any means. But I think this argument is much like blaming McDonalds for the obesity in our society: you can only carry the blame so far. If you advertise the investing game as “fast money”, you’re being insincere. But ultimately it’s the 
investor’s responsibility to gather information on the company, and the financial environment he/she is placing their money into, not some news anchor “throwing cows through his legs.” 
So in the end I think both parties have good points. The stock market is a rough sea to be traversed, and it’s completely unpredictable. But at the same time, news stations should not  pretend that they can give superlative maritime charts for any laymen to use. Or as Jon Stewart summed up at the end of his show,  “… maybe we could remove the ‘Finace Expert’ and ‘In Cramer we Trust’ and get back to the fundamentals of reporting as well, and I can go back to making fart noises and funny faces.”
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