Friday, March 13, 2009

Stewart's attack was an eye-opener

Jon Stewart's full frontal assault on CNBC last night (see video below) was a stunning moment in television, even for the late 2000s.

A faux news anchor took on the full ire of a country of investors, who have seen their life savings go from fat to emaciated because of Wall Street and finance guys who played fast and loose with other people's money.

And it came on the very day that Bernie Madoff went to prison for playing the fastest and loosest with gigantic amounts of money.

Cramer's program on CNBC has been a combination of interesting points about American companies, cable TV entertainment and a carnival sideshow led by a guy who seemed to know a whole lot about investing.

But Bear Stearns went down, others financial titans followed, the economy tanked, and Cramer was left looking as stupid and silly as other bullish investors.

Stewart showed a few of his trademark clips but mainly just spent the whole half-hour laying into Cramer for not only his own program's part in making Wall Street look good before the crash, but also CNBC's failure to do serious reporting during the lead-up to one of the greatest financial collapses in American history.

Cramer, as you can see from the video, was more than patient, contrite and agreeable. But Stewart didn't let him or the GE-owned network off the ropes. In Cramer's defense, almost no one was calling for caution, Stewart included, during the past decade when IRA accounts and 401K results were making people rich (on paper) and houses were escalating in price.

And further, Stewart's concern about CNBC's part in the Wall Street debacle could probably be extended to all of cable TV, marked by the need for 24-hour content and making the story du jour into a media circus (O.J., Britney, Lacey Peterson, etc.). It's an insatiable beast, and it takes more money than most are willing to spend to do serious business reporting.

But Stewart's not-so-rollicking attack on CNBC made me think of how I've been intentionally avoiding my investment account, so as not to be depressed about it. He reminded me how we really should be irate at the guys who did this, the brokers and hedge fund managers and credit rating agencies. Not to mention the mortgage wizards who would sell a $540,000 California house to someone making $75,000 or $80,000 a year with a subprime mortgage. The math never worked, but salesmen and brokers and ratings agencies got obscenely wealthy doing it.

For eight years, anytime we brought up the fact that some folks are getting unseemly wealthy at the top of society by questionable means, we were slapped down by "free-market" Limbaugh blowhrds who wagged their fingers and said that no one in America should resort to "class warfare." Well, the well-connected wheeler-dealers brought this on us, and many Americans are tired of protecting the uber rich. There's a reason for regulation, and moderation. The rich have earned the new tax assaults on their fortunes.

Let Stewart's tirade be an option for real journalists (in editorials or columns) when hugely profitable media businesses spin fluff about businesses taking extreme risks, as they share in the bounty and we shmoes share mainly in the risk.

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