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Friday, March 13, 2009

Cosmic Cramer

What to say about the smackdown Jon Stewart has been dishing out to CNBC over the last week? Truly, a thing of beauty. It's not just that CNBC has long been a cheerleader for the worst aspects of market bubble madness. It's that they've been so unrepentantly unreflective and unapologetic about the whole affair. Rather than stepping back and taking stock, as it were, they've decided to run with a truly toxic "blame Obama" strategy, as if all this red started with the man that's black. Santelli's now infamous faux-populist rant about how Chicago derivatives traders were a "cross-section of America" angry at having to bail out the "losers" who took on home loans they could not afford, and blaming Obama for his "socialism" is only one of many such incidents. Even more repulsive than Santelli himself were the CNBC anchors egging him on, without the slightest hint of self-awareness or shame. They looked like a bully's posse in a very wealthy playground.

Meanwhile, CNBC-sister MSNBC rode hard on Morning Joe for a week with a graph of how far the market has dropped since election day. Left off the graph? 1) the market drop of nearly 50% starting well before November, 2) any recognition that Obama wasn't even president for the first 2/3 of the graph (!). Truly spectacular flim-flammery. Barely worth mentioning is the rather routine distortion that comes with cutting off the entire bottom of a graph so that it, in charting the gap from 6500 to 8000 it makes a fractional drop look like a zeroing out. I'd cut the media a bit more of a break if they looked like they were even trying to learn their lessons.

And so we now have the spectacle of Jon Stewart taking Jim "Mad Money" Cramer to the woodshed in one of the sharpest interviews I've ever seen on TV. Stewart's moral outrage is one of his most compelling qualities. And while the NY Times may get churlish about its lack of overt humor, Stewart's point--that it's "not a fucking game!"--seems by far the more appropriate. That refusal to treat Cramer as just one more jocular guest is a reminder of just how clubby all other media today is. If you're in the circle of people who appear on TV, you're supposed to be protected, from criticism obviously, but mostly from any serious moral sanction of who you are and what you've done. Don't you know that's its all infotainment? That we're on the same team!? So what if Cramer knew the market was rigged by inside players playing with our poker chips (as he admitted in one inconvenient interview Stewart played back for him)? His ratings are huge!

Worse, as Stewart pointed out, Cramer is far from the worst offender. It's his whole frickin' network. Hell, it's all the damned TV news. If I had to pick the worst media villain in this sordid affair, Cramer would rank well below one very prominent stable-mate at CNBC: Larry Kudlow. Cramer at least seems to be a human being, albeit a very flawed one. He gives the impression of having been something of a clowninsh suck-up, the sidekick who just wanted the respect of his big-money CEO buddies, who then got caught up in his own narcissistic hype ("In Cramer We Trust" went the CNBC promos). He also seems to know just how bad he's really screwed this up. Kudlow, meanwhile, is the Dick Cheney of economic analysis, a man of almost comically Mephistophelean evil. Hocking that same combination of catastrophic judgment and faux gravitas that once led a drunken Cheney to shoot a friend in the face and then force him to apologize for getting shot, Kudlow dispenses daily doses of class war self-affirmation that would make Ayn Rand blush with shame. If Kudlow ever shows the slightest hint of contrition, we'll know that the apocalypse is truly upon us.

What lessons? Well, we now know, not that we didn't before, that your typical economic libertarian wakes up every morning with a bit in his mouth and a saddle on his back. (I actually like that phrase better with a word other than "bit", but this is a family blog.) They don't so much admire capital-ism as worship capital-ists. They are class warrior authoritarians who have tricked themselves into believing that they are paragons of freedom and democracy. Santelli, Cramer, and Kudlow fighting for the "little guy." With friends like these, who needs enemies? Once again, George W. Bush's America: this nation's well-being is too important to leave it in the hands of the cheerleaders.


At 1:33 PM, Blogger Gina said...

Stewart's evisceration of Kramer reminds me of his earlier castration of Tucker Carlson on the late unlamented Crossfire on CNN. Stewart took on Carlson on Carlson's own network turf (at the time) for fouling public discourse with the kind of ranting that was the pseudointellectual equivalent of Morton Downey Jr. on steroids. Tucker was still wearing a bow tie at the time, which made him look like Little Lord Fauntleroy being taken to task by a Jewish James Dean (The video is on YouTube, of course.). Stewart scored something of a TKO when Carlson was jettisoned from Crossfire and Crossfire eventually died. Apparently, it was just a prelim for the Stewart-Kramer bout. And the best part is that Don King is not entitled to the pay-per-view income. By the way, TenaciousMcD, you articulated much more beautifully than I did in my Honors paper that I sent you some time back the incest of today's media clubbiness. It's all one great big whorehouse with prostitutes, regular clients, and occasional clients. The only difference is that no one can claim to be merely the piano player in the parlor. Howard Kurtz is the only one who comes close, but even he has to be in the whorehouse to analyze it. So who's the madame? Rupert Murdoch in drag? UGH! Forget I even drummed up that image!

At 10:55 PM, Blogger tenaciousmcd said...

Somehow, this time I don't think Cramer is going to lose his job. CNBC caters to an elite clientele: the market taste makers and their admirers. Those guys desperately want to believe what Cramer, Kudlow, et al. are selling, and CNBC doesn't need to worry about credibility the way CNN does.

I like Howie Kurtz as the piano player. He loves the crowd but tries to duck when bullets start flying.


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