In The Washington Post this morning, columnist Richard Cohen claims our anger toward Jim Cramer, whom Cohen calls CNBC's "excitable analyst," is misguided. The headline says it all: "Don't Blame Jim Cramer." Who is the real culprit, besides a growing group of financial analysts and economists? Jon Stewart.
Stewart, too, rides the zeitgeist. The hunt is on for culprits and scapegoats, and Stewart has served up a cliche: the media. As with the war in Iraq, for which credulous media should take some responsibility, the sins are blown out of proportion. It would be one thing if Wall Street titans by the score were selling their company stock and the media were failing to report it, but when someone puts his money where his mouth is, you have to pay attention. The big shots believed.
Stewart plays a valuable role. He mocks authority, which is good, and he mocks those, such as the media, who take the word of authority as if, well, it's authoritative. But given the outsize reception to his cheap shot at business media, he ought to turn his wit inward: Mocker, mock thyself.
Point taken, but I'm boggled by the number of "in defense of Jim Cramer" blog posts I've read. I don't think Cramer and Stewart are all that different, and I think that's a problem.
Marty Peretz, the longtime editor-in-chief of The New Republic, whose blog is called The Spine, and Cramer have been friends for more than 30 years. (They founded TheStreet.com together.) "He is a trusted and loving friend," Peretz writes of Cramer. (From where? Harvard University, where Peretz went and taught, and where Cramer was a student.) "He is now being battered in the press," Peretz continues. "Mostly by people whose careers are built on ridiculing others."
James Fallows, a correspondent for The Atlantic, notes that he and Cramer "share a journalistic background." Fallows continues: "At different times each of us was editor of the same college paper." That college paper is The Harvard Crimson.
At our morning meeting yesterday, one of my colleagues made an interesting analogy:
Bob Dylan:Politics::John Stewart:The Media
Stewart is eager to criticize journalism, as Cohen points out. Just as easily, he takes up the journalism torch, asking the hard questions, putting people in the hot seat, etc.
That said, Stewart is as happy saying, "I'm not a journalist, I'm an entertainer," as he is relishing praise from people who argue that he is doing what "real" journalists should be doing. It's confusing and contradictory.
Cramer is no different, to my mind. On The Daily Show, he told Stewart that he hosts an entertainment program about business. (A comment with which Stewart took great issue.) As Peretz's defense of Cramer illustrates, albeit indirectly, Cramer wears two coats: Harvard-educated smartypants, respected for the depth of his knowledge of economics and the market, and rabid entertainer, yelling over loud sound effects.
I'd like to ask Jon and Jim, "Who are you, really?" Each is having an identity crisis that, to me, is confusing. And irritating.