I’m very much enthused by the proposition that Jon Stewart and his merry band of TIVO-ing staffers should step up their attacks and go after much of the rest of the media.
The basic drive behind the Daily Show‘s criticism of CNBC is that at the end of the day, truth matters. Getting it right matters. That it’s time to cowboy up and act like adults, to be responsible for what we say in public. To wipe off the clown makeup when we’re performing in roles where what we do is consequential.
One of the off-stage handmaidens of the mess we’re in now is that a lot of the mainstream media, a lot of online writers and a lot of public figures all arrived at the same place over the last two decades, that your schtick was what mattered, your brand name, your spin. That you didn’t have any responsibilities beyond that. That you’re just a performer, an entertainer, that anyone who takes you seriously is a rube. That if you’re wrong about fundamentals or facts, bluster and splutter a bit, throw up some smoke, out-yell the other guy, change the subject, and if that doesn’t work, shrug and say, “Who cares, none of this really matters anyway.”
Stewart didn’t let Cramer or his colleagues off the hook with that excuse. It would have been very easy, much less emotionally excruciating, to just open the door to that alibi, to say, “I understand, you’re just trying to entertain, it’s not meant seriously, your viewers understand it’s all an act, maybe you should just put a more explicit disclaimer in front of your show”. But Stewart didn’t invite that escape, and Cramer wasn’t able to seize it from him.
The jaw-dropping refrain from Cramer throughout the segment was, “Well, I talked to this well-placed source and he lied to me.” You talk to a source and if you trust that source, that’s it, case closed, story finished, judgment rendered. It was delicious to see Stewart constantly circle back to this defense and express unfiltered anger and disgust at its patent inadequacy. This is especially true with financial reporting because there is a public record, there is public information, there was enough out there beyond the sources that could have been consistently used to push back on them. There were observers who saw the over-leveraging, the bad debt, the hubris coming from a long ways off, and they didn’t see all of that by calling up a couple of CEOs and asking them if there was a problem.
I do not think that this description of methodology is limited to Cramer. I think it’s what a tremendous amount of mainstream journalism has become, the pimping of connections, the passing-on of self-interested representations from powerful and influential people who are otherwise safely insulated from skepticism. Judith Miller had the same alibi.