Archive for Comedy Central

Media by Comedians – Part I: Jon Stewart

Posted in Business with tags , , , , on March 16, 2009 by zolthanite

So the recent CNBC vs. Comedy Central fallout has created a wide variety of perspectives on the role Jon Stewart plays in the whole “responsibility of media” that allows him to publicly skewer CNBC while absolving himself of responsibility and critical attack.  There has also been a lot of discussion over what Jon did over the past week in order to bring events about as they did, and some fairly bold assumptions about what all of this means in the post-Cramer fallout.

By and large, though, it highlights one of the main reasons why the under 35 demographic gets its news from sources like The Daily Show and Colbert Report: Satire is not satire unless it has truth to it.  What happened Thursday night was something that only happens when people fail to realize just what they are getting in to or have too much pride to back down, and highlights why Tim Russert, when he was alive, was such a valuable journalist and interviewer.  Critical discussion with high-profile people about their actions is a rare commodity these days.  

A few assumptions of fact before I talk about my take on the past week on The Daily Show 

  1. Jon’s whole point, even during the Cramer interview, was that CNBC has a history of not only being grossly wrong when they have staff that should know better (citing Cramer’s hedge fund and Santelli’s derivative trading experiences), but that they play tee-ball with the CEOs and do not actually have a shred of journalistic acumen.
  2. Jon Stewart (And the other people I plan on bringing up later) is a comedian. He does not have the access and resources beyond what the news organizations put out and maybe a little bit extra from some staffing interns and the like.  He doesn’t do investigative reporting.
  3. Jon, when being serious, isn’t being a journalist so much as an angry citizen who is smart enough to call bullshit when he sees it.  He also makes no claim of being anything other than a comedian, ever.

So, on to the fun:

Relevant Video
Jon’s March 4th Callout of Sentelli
Jon’s Response to Cramer’s Article
Jon’s Response to the Cramer media rounds
Unedited Cramer v Stewart Interview

 

Nitpicking

A large part of the article rebuttal (Link #2) was about the “Buy Bear Stearns” comment Cramer made on his show and when exactly that took place.  So to associate stock prices with each clip in the reverse order I spent a stupid amount of time trying to find free NYSE historical data.  It’s amazing how hard it is to find data associated with a delisted company when the symbol has been recycled into use:

January 24, 2008: Bear opens at $68, closes at $79, via closest data point from two-days earlier.  Not the exact date, but still it was there.

March 6, 2008: Bear at roughly $69 via the clip

March 11, 2008: Bear at $62.97 via the clip

The other thing is that Cramer, in the more candid and reasonable January clip, explicitly stated his recommendation was based on intuition, not on strong financials or anything that would quantitatively support his claim.  But actually, if you listen to the clip, he was being completely honest that the stock would pay off under the assumption that Bear Stearns would be for sale.  I’m assuming this would be no different than buying Take-Two stock prior to the EA acquisition announcement (That ultimately failed, but TT’s stock spiked fairly high for a long time as a result).

But Bear was holding semi-steady in those two months before it died.  No one actually expects a company to suddenly disappear overnight, despite the fact we have strong history to the contrary (Enron, if you really needed one).  So despite writing on the wall to the contrary, most market people sit in the delusion that size created financial invulnerability, when in fact the opposite is true.

 

The Meaningful Takeaway

First off a note on Cramer:  Cramer is an extremely intelligent guy.  The clips from him on The Street are indicative of how adept the man is at the financial markets and how the game is played.  He also has a lot of pull in the financial community.  In a sense, he serves as a symbol for much more of the financial industry than just CNBC.  For that night, however, he was as close to CNBC as Stewart is going to get.  Honestly, though, CNBC kinda threw him under the bus by doing that to him coupled with the lack of follow-up, and I have to give him credit for showing up when they knew Stewart’s position beforehand.  Chris Matthews probably wasn’t so lucky here.

Stewart also has gone after the media before.  Stewart’s 2004-ish appearance on Crossfire is pretty iconic of that.  He hasn’t said anything new, he just has a new example to work with.  That’s pretty key.  This isn’t an “anti-Obama” attack on Cramer specifically by Stewart because of the article, despite what people are saying.  Stewart and Colbert have an entire living based on mocking the media as well as what it reports.  More importantly, Stewart himself as a history of railing against mainstream media on a more personal level, which is a belief he holds and was indirectly mentioned in a 2003 interview with Chris Matthews on The Daily Show.

So what happened?  Really, what you have is an example of someone doing investigative reporting without actually requiring political or social access in order to do so.  That, in and of itself, is impressive.  More importantly, Stewart’s main point of CNBC’s trusting CEOs statements about their own companies and taking everything at face value is doing their entire organization a disservice.  They get no real information out of it and, based on bold face lies, attempt to make meaningful decisions.  It’s a punchline that the new breed of political comedian has used as a platform to very great success: Government is stupid, and the only thing dumber is the people who report on it.

The reason so many people, myself included, use The Daily Show as a primary news source (I also read the Economist, BBC, and a few other things as well) is because very few of the big-names in broadcasting take the time to report on the administration/politics/whatever based on anything other than face-value nonsense.  The juxtaposition of contradiction in statements is both comedic AND informative.  The Governor Bush vs. President Bush “debate” is still one of the best sketches I’ve seen on The Daily Show.  

But rarely does The Daily Show have the opportunity to do with other political figures what it did with Cramer, and in all honesty it shouldn’t have to.  That’s the job of the media.  That’s why freedom of the press is in the Bill of Rights.  Meet the Press did the same thing with guests on a regular basis (In the Tim Russert days, I believe the Cheney interview is the relevant one there, although Rumsfeld was decent enough as well), and Face the Nation did a similar thing with Rumsfeld and whether or not he had used the words “Imminent Threat” on Iraq.  Our media should protect us from everyone else.  Like Jon said, “I want this Jim Cramer to protect me from that Jim Cramer.”

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