Last night, Jon Stewart interviewed Jim Cramer, the host of the CNBC show "Mad Money". This was after a weeklong "cable news" tit-for-tat the two gentlemen have been having.
I'm not going to go over the history - it's been in the news, and you can see the genesis of how Mr. Stewart shined a gigantic spotlight on the entire CNBC network, of which Mr. Cramer is a featured member.
I think it's important to see what Stewart is doing here.
He's not criticizing Cramer and Co from CNBC because they were wrong - there's plenty of people who are wrong.
He's going after them because:
1. They claim to represent "the heartland" of the American public (see the Santelli rant), when they really only represent a very specific cross section of mostly male, mostly white, and almost entirely wealthy people.
2. The hypocrisy - this is probably Stewart's #2 button to push about people. He can't stand it, so when you've got people on CNBC going on about the "losers" who "caused all of the problems in the economy" or the "the Obama administration who's ruining everything" - all the while almost pointedly ignoring the billions that the financial markets received because of their own actions, then Stewart is going to shine a giant flashlight on their double standard.
3. The lying. This is usually Stewart's #1 button that just gets him going more than anything else. If you lie, he will go out of his way to destroy you. So when Cramer goes on about "Oh, I didn't tell people to buy Bear Sterns", Stewart has no problem saying "You liar." When the guys on CNBC go on about how wise they are, and how well they know everything, Stewart isn't mad about them being wrong - he's mad about them lying about it.
4. And finally, the media. I think of all the targets that Stewart and Colbert go after, the media is probably one of their favorite. Again, he's not so much mad about CNBC being wrong about the former bubble - but for going out of their way to promote the bubble. Daily Show has made a point of going after reporters for being a bunch of wimps when questioning the former and the current administration, too scared of giving up "access" instead of looking to find out the "truth". So while the CNBC guys were softballing CEO's that, with any amount of homework, could be seen as lying and, in Standford's case, operating a ponzi scheme, rather than being directly challenged with real, earnest reporting that so-called "experts" in financial matters should have done, the CNBC crew all but licked the balls of the oh-so powerful CEO's they invited on - because if they didn't, they feared not being allowed to talk to them again.
From what I've seen of Stewart, this is an unpardonable sin. The media's job isn't to be a friend to the powerful or the famous, but question them, push them, research the facts and when there is a contradiction between fact and statements, point that out.
When Stewart had Cramer on his show, he did the one thing that journalists have been afraid to do - challenge his guest. When Cheney was on Tim Russert's "Meet the Press", Russert took Cheney at his word - and afterwards said "Oh, well, I thought it was up to the viewer to decide if he was telling the truth or not.
No! You don't! That's what we rely on "the media" for! We expect you to be like Edward R. Murrow, who would interview people and challenge them with facts when they lied. That's how he destroyed Joseph McCarthy during the Communist Scare - not by shouting, not by being a windbag, but by letting Mr. McCarthy have his say - then systematically pointing out that McCarthy was a liar and a fraud.
Last night, Stewart did the same thing. When he showed Mr. Cramer clips of himself *admitting* that he engaged in illegal actions during his hedge fund days but he got away with it because the people at the SEC didn't know what they were doing - he pointed out that he wanted the Cramer who ran the "Mad Money" show to protect his viewers from the Cramer that ran the hedge fund.
There's been a lot of talk from journalists whining about "But - but - if we were adversarial like that, we'd lose our access! The White House/Senators/Governors/Pedo Bears wouldn't invite us to the press conferences and we'd never be allowed to ask questions!"
My reply: Look at Jon Stewart! He's always challenging the powerful, *and they come to his show*! Granted, he treats them with respect (as long as they don't lie). He gives them fair say, and I've often seen him expand an interview segment to let his host have more commentary time.
Newspapers are dying, media is complaining that people don't watch the news. That's because it's not news - it's regurgitated talking points. If someone doesn't give you access because you ask too many questions - then there's your story right there. "Powerful person too much a chicken shit to talk to answer this question."
This is what we, the viewers, and the public, want. We want the powerful challenged and forced to account for their deeds. We want the liars to be told "You're a fracking liar!" to their faces and shown *why* they're a liar.
We don't want "Here's person A, here's Person B - we'll let them hash it out." We want Person A to speak, then confronted with the facts so we can know if they're lying or not.
Jon Stewart gets that. And its sad that one of the few journalists with the guts to tell people to their faces "You, sir, are a liar" - is the commedian.