Stop, children, what's that sound...

Kevin Kamberg

Everybody look what's goin' down. - Buffalo Springfield

By now I'm sure that most of us have heard about Jon Stewart's evisceration of CNBC's Mad Money host James Cramer. But I'm guessing that fewer have heard about Cramer's Oregon connection. Turns out that James Cramer and our own Steve Novick are both members of the Harvard Law School class of '84. Fellow member of the HLS class of '84 Daniel Spiro was a staunch Novick supporter during Steve's recent run for U.S. Senate and needs no introduction to regular readers of Blue Oregon. Spiro wrote a post on Saturday about how the last year has been a Tough Year for the class of '84 on his Empathic Rationalist blog:

I look at a guy like Cramer and I’m reminded of that old ad campaign where the consumers are told that they could “have it all” – three piece suits AND rock ‘n roll. Cramer must have thought he had it all. Unlike his buddy Spitzer, who had to wage wars against Wall Street and, later, Albany Republicans, Cramer could be a friend to everyone … and get rich in the process. At the same time that he was rolling in the dough, he was comporting himself on the airwaves like a party-animal, even backslapping on such mainstream programs as Morning Joe.

Then came Stewart. His rebuke was quite simple -- it’s one thing to be a wild-and-crazy celebrity and make money for it; it’s another thing to be a charlatan who recklessly deprives people of their savings. As Stewart demonstrated, Cramer and his network told middle class people that they could TRUST his recommendations on what to do with their nest eggs, when in fact he didn’t have a friggen clue what he was talking about. Worse yet, Stewart pointed out, Cramer once publicly joked about playing the kind of games with the financial system that could have actually gotten him and his cronies in trouble if the regulators weren’t such idiots.

Actually, what Cramer was joking about may in fact constitute illegal market manipulation. But the larger story here is how or why a comedian openly playing the role of of a faux-news anchor came to be the instrument of Cramer's comeuppance. Carla and I were discussing this very issue the other day when she asked the obvious: Why wasn't it 60 Minutes or another of the investigative news programs that exposed Cramer?

The answer may be as simple as Jon Stewart having not followed the presumed script. The British Telegraph briefly describes how everyone at CNBC must have assumed it would go.

After dipping his proboscis into Stewart's pollen, Cramer was meant to flutter home with some of his young viewers, curious to see what the fuss was about.

Undoubtedly that's exactly how the big shots at CNBC (and elsewhere) thought it would play out. But Denver Post columnist Mike Littwin hints at another factor and the implications are disturbing:

But, somehow, it's Stewart's lack of credentials that has become the point — showing that a fake journalist will go where it seems real journalists fear to tread.

It's actually more complicated than that. Stewart is a smart guy who thinks well on his feet and knows how to conduct a tough interview. You may remember his famous takedown of "Crossfire" for its sins against journalism. But no one would even have noticed if, say, The New York Times took on CNBC and Cramer and his flying bulls and bears and the stock market frenzy he did his best to perpetuate.

While the fact that it was a TV comedian who valiently scored a blow against the cynical and arrogant Wall Street charlatans on behalf of us victimized consumers is indeed an indictment of the mainstream "news" business, isn't it also an indictment of us poor schmucks too. Without us would anyone know or care that Stewart so thoroughly eviscerated Cramer? For that matter, would Stewart ever have had the opportunity in the first place?

Littwin continues,

It's easy to make fun of Cramer. Like Stewart, Cramer wants you to take him seriously while not taking him seriously at all. That's what we call shtick, and it's hardly new. What is new is that you can do this on TV on what is also a serious financial-news network — and that people watch breathlessly, with cellphone in hand, as Cramer advises where to invest their money.

If Stewart, who trades in outrage, is outraged by this, suddenly, that's a story. If Stewart shows CNBC for what it too often is — a shill for Wall Street — that's a story.

If he tells Cramer this is no bleepin' game, yeah, millions line up to watch (and, if you missed it, you can see the entire unexpurgated interview at comedycentral.com).

This works because they're in the same business — the business, as Stewart puts it, of selling snake oil. But Stewart's brand of snake oil didn't help make your 401(k) shrink before your eyes.


Comments

  • (Show?)

    Here's something I've yet to see anyone ask: Was Cramer in fact betting against the advice he was giving on TV? Do we assume that he doesn't play the market at all anymore? Where was he putting his own money, for example, when he was advising his viewers to buy Bear Stearns?

  • (Show?)

    I watched the interview online and it was great to see Stewart spank Cramer. If you really want to get a laugh go to Comedy Central's webpage and watch the uncensored version.

  • Sid Leader (unverified)
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    Lars Larson has taped half a dozen PRO STIMULUS ads for KXL-- weatherproofing, home mortgages, car sales... all WHORING for the stimulus.

    The stimulus is making Lars, The King of Camas, a very rich man.

    Too bad the PDX media is asleep... in bed... with the enemy... too exhausted to notice.

  • Richard (unverified)
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    Sid,

    If the PDX media made up stuff like you they would be no better than this blog.

    Business advertisers are WHORING?

    The "stimulus" isn't making Lars rich. He has successful radio show. He doesn't live in Camas.

    I don't know who "you" think the media is in bed with but the PDX media is in bed with city hall, OHSU, developers and other usual suspects.

  • alcatross (unverified)
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    Sid says: Lars Larson has taped half a dozen PRO STIMULUS ads for KXL-- weatherproofing, home mortgages, car sales... all WHORING for the stimulus.

    Lars Larson is a professional radio talk show host and product pitchman... he largely makes his living off the money paid to advertise during his programs. He would be taping these ads whether there was a stimulus or not. Just like the guy who's been advertising continuously for 5+ years that there's never been a better time to refinance your mortgage - and today's low rate could disappear in the blink of an eye.

    Some people here already accuse Lars of ignoring reality. Here's a case where he most indisputably is NOT ignoring reality (i.e., the stimulus), and yet he's being demonized for that now too.

    If you don't like Lars Larson for whatever reason, fine. I don't agree with the views of Thom Hartmann, Ron Reagan Jr, Mike Mulloy, Rachel Maddow, and other hosts on KPOJ - but I don't begrudge them their right to make a living.

  • (Show?)

    Do you begrudge them their right to be fucking hypocrites like lars, govs perry, Sanford, jindal, et al?

  • Kurt Chapman (unverified)
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    I find this mostly a side show in the workd of reality. In good times Cramer was an irritating presence. People who act on ANY televised shill hawking investments without doing their own homework deserves what ever happens. That Cramer and his folks did not envision Stewart attacking him is a huge duh.

    At the beginning, middle and end of the day, both are entertainers and should be treated as such.

    How/why this turned into a Lars attack is beyond me. Like Lars or not for his style of entertainment, he has a proven track record of producing and airing paid advertisements. That's what he does! Get over it.

  • Kurt Chapman (unverified)
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    And Kevin, thanks for the blast from the past.

    Perhaps the best words from Steven Stills masterpiece here are:

    Battle lines being drawn, Nobody's right, If everybody's wrong young people speaking their mind, gettin' so much resistance from behind.

  • Richard (unverified)
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    Torrid,

    So you don't mind Sid Leader just making things up?

    And what's with the potty mouth? Is that supposed to be some sort of emphasis?

    What's your example of Lars being a hypocrite?

    I could begrudge Hartman, Mulloy and Maddow for a lot better reasons than hypocricy.

    Where did Randi Rhodes go? I remember her spots on KPOJ. "Lars, I'm here, you're done, buh bye".

  • Sid Leader (unverified)
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    One minute Lars hates the stimulus and calls Obama a socialist.

    That's okay.

    But... 30 seconds later, on the same station, we heard Lars voice a commercial saying the stimulus is great and will help you green your home. So call Mr. Greenjeans. Fast.

    Kinda like Thom Hartmann doing ads for... the military.

    Which never happened.

    You clear now?

  • (Show?)

    I enjoyed Stewart's comedic skewering of Cramer as much as anyone, and I'm not a fan of Cramer or the type of show he does, but the final "take down" show was a bit of a cheap shot on Stewart's part.

    The things Cramer "admitted to" (bragged about?) on the "not intended for television" videotape are sleezy and perhaps illegal but largely inconsequential. In fact, I'm not sure his bragging about being able to manipulate the market wasn't a little like a Yankees fan who claims that when he's watching a game on TV and drinks beer out of his left hand when the first Yankee batter is up to start an inning, the Yankees invariably will score that inning.

    But whether or not Cramer had the ability to create short-term movements in the market and capitalize on them, this does not "lead in a straight line" to the current fiasco, as Stewart suggests. That's sort of like saying someone who brags about writing off the cost of his vacation as a business trip leads in a straight line to the federal debt.

    Finally, I think Stewart exaggerates at best when he says Cramer and his colleagues all knew what the banks (and presumably other bad actors) were doing and said nothing. In one sense, a lot of people knew what the banks were doing, saw them keep doing it successfully year after year, and honestly (if naively) believed it was working.

    That is what always happens in these kinds of "bubbles" which are so obvious after the fact but which honest and sincere people fall for time after time because most people don't want to be left behind. It is easier to blame incompetents like Cramer than it is for John Stewart to ask himself, "If I'm as smart as everyone says I am, why I did let my mom keep her investments in this rigged roulette game?"

    The answer, of course, was that Stewart didn't think it was a rigged roulette game at the time--and neither did Cramer or his colleagues. I'm guessing they all lost a ton of money in the market when it crashed, too. (Bill Gates recovered his position as the richest man in the world because he only lost $18 billion last year, while Warren Buffett lost $25 billion.)

  • Bob Tiernan (unverified)
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    Kevin Kamberg:

    But I'm guessing that fewer have heard about Cramer's Oregon connection. Turns out that James Cramer and our own Steve Novick are both members of the Harvard Law School class of '84.

    Bob T:

    In other words, Cramer already meets Blue Oregon's minimum requirements for having a Portland street named after him.

    Bob Tiernan Portland

  • Dr. Raoul Duke (unverified)
    (Show?)

    When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro!

  • (Show?)

    Hey, I'm with you on that one, Bob. I'd rather see local heros honored first and have argued as much on past posts on the Chavez issue.

  • edison (unverified)
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    Kevin said: "While the fact that it was a TV comedian who valiently scored a blow against the cynical and arrogant Wall Street charlatans on behalf of us victimized consumers is indeed an indictment of the mainstream "news" business, isn't it also an indictment of us poor schmucks too. Without us would anyone know or care that Stewart so thoroughly eviscerated Cramer? For that matter, would Stewart ever have had the opportunity in the first place?"

    What are you trying to say, Kevin? I'm missing your point.

    And while Jack Roberts' points are clear enough, they have little to do with the real issue: CNBC (and virtually all of the trad-media) either missed the financial meltdown story, which is pathetic at best, or were complicit, and chose not to report it at all.

  • (Show?)

    My point, Edison, is that we news consumers own a part of the reason why it was someone like Jon Stewart who stepped into the vacuum and exposed the financial shenanigans.

  • Idler (unverified)
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    What exactly did Stewart expose, and what light did it really shed on the financial crisis?

    Did CNBC really act much different than media outlets that report on markets? Someone says the network "missed the financial meltdown story." Did it, really? Has CNBC not aired anyone complaining about bailouts, interpreting the various interrelated causes of the debacle?

    And what's the point about Cramer, anyway? The guy has a unique insane clown kind of style, but plugging stocks is nothing new. In any case, let the buyer beware. Cramer was obviously EXPOSING shenanigans in the clip where he talked about stuff he used to do. Isn't that what Stewart is asking for? Hasn't Cramer done similar things with regard to short selling?

    <h2>The only clear, unifying reason behind this is that Stewart got pissed off that CNBC raised alarms over what the Obama Adminstration was doing. Of course they weren't alone, but he chose to discredit them because it's easy to find a few clips out of thousands that reflect poorly on forecasters. If Stewart were genuinely honest and Murrow-like, maybe he could have invited Warren Buffet, who raised the same alarms. But Warren Buffet would have eviscerated Stewart, albeit in a gentlemanly style. Regarding Cramer's supposed "evisceration" (since that seems to be the buzzword now), what's with the re-education camp ritual humiliation and confession? Creepy.</h2>

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