Last night, I watched the Jim Cramer interview with Jon Stewart on The Daily Show. It was good, no question. But two lessons were lost amongst Stewart’s sharp barbs, robbing me of any cathartic thrill.
First, Jim Cramer is not the problem. He’s not even the cause of the problem, he’s a by-product of it, even if he’s the most visible by-product. I’ve yet to watch the full interview but the televised version hit Cramer hard on his failure to use his knowledge from his days as a hedge fund manager to give people the truth about how these companies operate (a.k.a. using his powers for good instead of evil). Cramer should be held accountable, but he was standing on the shoulders of giants. Giant d-bags, that is, who prided themselves on creating a system so complex that no one person truly understood all of it.
No, the problem is not Jim Cramer. The problem is that it required an enormous amount of money to fund these games, and everyone from the Treasury to the guys with the headsets to the people that cover finance fed into the idea that the best financial managers were the ones who found shortcuts to leap over all the “suckers” who were only getting 10% ROI instead of 30%. People had a thirst for it, and CNBC slaked it at every opportunity with cheap wine that went straight to its viewers heads.
To properly understand all that, it takes dissection and care. As good as The Daily Show‘s writers and researchers are, they can’t – and shouldn’t be expected to – do the heavy lifting there. As Stewart points out every chance he gets, it’s a comedy show. While the show is invaluable for letting the air out of countless gas bags after the fact, let’s not forget that it’s more important for someone else to do it the old-fashioned way as it’s happening (a.k.a. reporting). Something along the lines of this New Yorker article which tracks the fall of the house of Paulson and Bernake (which admittedly is also a post-game analysis). It’s at least as good as the This American Life reports on the big pool of money, the failure of regulators, and the banking debacle.
I’d love to see The Daily Show devote an entire show, using its own style, to hang these men in satiric effigy, rather than just hammering the one nail that agreed to stand still.
Here’s the second lesson that got lost, and it relates to the first: CNBC is not alone in its failure to serve.
Right now, the Chicago Tribune site has the Stewart/Cramer story as its lead.
You’ll notice the possibility of a 50 percent tax hike (during a recession, in a state that’s really broke, and affecting people who live in a city – Chicago – whose public school system and public transit system are bleeding internally due to a lack of money) is shunted off to the side.
Let me reiterate: A story about something that happened on a basic cable comedy show to a guy who hosts another basic cable show is the lead story on the website of one of the two daily papers in the third largest city in the United States.
The Trib isn’t alone here in its glee. (Some Web sites live-blogged the damn thing for crying out loud.) Nor is this a one-time problem. Michael Miner at the Reader details the shenanigans on the front page of the paper earlier this week, while his colleague Whet Moser shakes his head over a story written by a Tribune editor and her nine-year-old daughter (!!!) who just loooove the three-quarters-of-a-million-dollar condo they found.
And just so I’m not guilty of making the Trib the Jim Cramer of media fail:
If newspapers and network television want to know how to “beat” the Internet, what we need right now more than anything isn’t tips to get through the recession (Shop less! Cook at home!) or photo galleries of hot moms (ahem, CBS-2). We need vibrant, analytical, junkyard dogs of journalism who quietly and methodically eviscerate the people who seek to make this country worse off. Not media that replays the stuff we dose ourselves with to try and forget about the mess we’re in. I mean, for God’s sake, I work at a magazine that is about “entertainment.” When my joke posts resemble the front page of the paper, there’s a problem.
It’s not hard to do. Stewart proved it last night. It doesn’t even cost that much money (if NPR and Comedy Central can do it…). And for anyone who thinks that’s not what people want: Listen to what people talk about all day today. Count the number of times people say “Hey did you see The Daily Show last night?”
When’s the last time you heard “Hey, did you see the paper this morning?”
UPDATE: Credit where it’s due: The Trib’s home page now looks like this, with the income tax story rightly positioned as the lead:
UPDATE 2: Lord, it’s worse than I thought. On the Huffington Post, Daniel Sinker points out lead stories from the sites of CNN, the Sun-Times, and the LA Times were Anna Nicole Smith, Michelle Obama on Good Morning America, and Michael Jackson tickets going on sale, respectively.
Also, the Reader’s Whet Moser throws down with this:
“There is so much good information out there that your typical local columnist doesn’t even need to be out on the front lines, but if you’re writing about stuff in the media about the financial crisis anyway, there’s no reason not to drill down into yet more profound coverage, to be a middleman between the information out there in the cloud and local, general audiences.”
He also hits the point I glossed over above: People will thank you for this coverage with their eyes which, not incidentally, equal ad dollars which equals money which equals “saving journalism.”
There’s a follow-up to this post here.