Cramer Is Right and Stewart Is Full of It

by: Tom Brown

Here's the emotional crescendo a finger-wagging Jon Stewart reached last Thursday, in his run-in with Jim Cramer on the Daily Show:

You knew what the banks were doing, and yet were touting it for months and months. The entire network was. And so now to pretend that this was some sort of crazy, once-in-a-lifetime tsunami that nobody could have seen coming is disingenuous at best and criminal at worst. [Emph. added]

Come again? CNBC should have foreseen the implosion of the country’s financial system, and warned its viewers ahead of time? Sure, Jon, if you say so. News flash: if the people at CNBC could have seen the mess coming, they wouldn’t be working in cable news. As far as that goes, look at how good a job even hyper-sophisticated Wall Street types, people like Jimmy Cayne, Dick Fuld, and Hank Greenberg, did in anticipating the mess. Greenberg, for one, told CNBC last week his personal losses from the meltdown so far add up to $2 billion. Two investment banks have collapsed as a result of the crisis, and a third was forced into a sale. A big chunk of the mortgage lending industry has disappeared. The two GSEs have been nationalized, as has the world’s largest insurer. Wachovia, Countrywide, Washington Mutual, National City—all gone. If this was supposed to be some plot Wall Street hatched to enrich itself at Main Street’s expense, as Stewart seems to think, things didn’t go well. Some conspiracy.

The fact is, Cramer is right, and Jon Stewart is full of it: the credit crunch really is a once-every-hundred year event, that 99.5% of investors of all stripes, even the insiders, didn’t see coming. Stewart’s fulmination to the contrary might whip his studio audience into a mini-lather, but it’s idiotic, just the same. And where does he get off suggesting that Cramer is somehow criminally liable for not warning his viewers about the meltdown in advance? That’s not just idiotic—it’s outrageous.

There seems to be no bottom to the depth of moral outrage Jon Stewart can now suddenly summon when it comes to what’s going on on Wall Street these days. The guy says he has just had it. In addition to being ticked off at CNBC for its sin of failing to predict the collapse of the financial system, Stewart now also says he’s shocked by the fact that on Wall Street a) not every investor is buy-and-hold investor, b) a lot of shares of stock trade every day, c) some people are interested in short-term profits rather than long-term profits, and d) heavy leverage can be bad. Oh, and Stewart doesn’t like the promos CNBC does for Mad Money, either. Is there no end to the horror?

I have a question. Who died and made Jon Stewart pope? Jim Cramer is an honest, admirable man who was nowhere near any of the excesses that went on as the subprime bubble inflated. He did an honorable thing by even showing up on Stewart’s show on Thursday. And for his effort, he got to put up with a sanctimonious blowhard for 20 minutes. For myself, I think Cramer’s response to Stewart’s hectoring was way too solicitous. If it had been me, I’d have told the guy to go stick it. Jon Stewart has suddenly set himself up as the moral arbiter ready to pass judgment on Wall Street’s sins. In fact, he’s a know-nothing indulging himself in a bunch of moral preening.

The collapse of the financial markets has caused a lot of pain and anguish over the past 18 months. Jon Stewart doesn’t do anyone any favors by inventing new bogeymen to blame it all on, or writing a fake history of how it all came about. The guy ought to go back to telling jokes