Interview? It was a pantsing by Jon Stewart.
I have no idea why CNBC Mad Money-man Jim Cramer decided to go on Comedy Central to face down Jon Stewart, who has been skewering him for a week. Why in the world?
Cramer was assured an opportunity for public humiliation on television, with the guarantee that it will subsequently go viral.
And that’s what he got.
The most damaging material came quickly – tape of Cramer recommending that investors sell stocks short, and admitting that he did it himself.
“I would encourage anyone in a hedge fund to do it,” Cramer said on the tape. “It’s legal. It’s a quick way to make money. No one else in world would ever admit that. But I’m going to admit that.”
And there was more tape: of Cramer recommending how to hoodwink the SEC – “they don’t understand it,” he assured viewers – by spreading rumors about companies like Apple, in order to game the stock.
And Cramer? What could he say? He looked sheepish.
“Ok, first reaction — we could do better. There’s shenanigans — we should call them out.”
Stewart went on: “You knew what the banks were doing, and were touting it for months and months. This was disingenuous at best, and criminal at worst.”
Stewart spoke for the regular investor, the guy out his 401K and kid’s college fund because they believed the story about long-term investment in the markets.
“CNBC could be a powerful tool of illumination for people who believe there’s two markets,” he went on. “The one sold to us as long term – 'put your money in 401ks, and don’t worry about it' – then this other market, the real market in the back room, where giant piles of money are going in and the money is transactional and fast. It’s dangerous, ethically dubious, and it hurts the long term market.”
Cramer ducked, he frowned, he rubbed his round, bald head in embarrassment as he fumbled for something to say under the onslaught of Stewart’s logic, good judgement and willingness to state the painfully obvious.
At one point Cramer practically bowed in half, as if paying his respects to his tormenter. “Should we have been constantly pointing out mistakes that have been made?” he asked. “Absolutely. I wish we had done more.”
Stewart wasn’t having it. “It’s easy to get on this after the fact,” he chided.
But just because the facts are painfully obvious doesn’t mean anyone confronts the responsible parties with them. Accountability is not for television journalism, and rarely for regular journalism either. Instead, we have Stewart.
And thank God.
The guy is the Jonathan Swift of our time. Part Mark Twain, part Emile Zola.This is not the first time he’s gotten his “J’accuse!” mojo on.
But it was one of the very best.