Tuesday, March 10, 2009

'The Daily Show' Flays CNBC

It started last Wednesday with a cancellation of that night's guest, CNBC correspondent Rick Santelli. In preparing for his appearance, The Daily Show staff put together a montage about CNBC — and, really, all the financial news networks — that indicted them for hubris, cozy and uncritical relationships with the CEOs of brokerage houses, untempered faith in the soundness of The Market and just generally being a complete joke. How, the segment asked, did major 24-hour financial news networks not only completely fail to foresee the worst economic meltdown in 80 years but also manage to forecast its opposite?

The only problem was, Santelli canceled. The Daily Show generally goes after networks and figures in a segment of clips and quotes, but if a representative of the network or the individual involved is going to be on the show, they give them room to explain, apologize, defend or go on the offensive. Without Santelli there to give counterpoint, the piece seemed a little ruthless, even though deserved. Worse, it seemed almost as if The Daily Show opted to flay the network because of the cancellation. Stewart later explained that that was not the case, but would it have mattered if it were? A just point arrived at spitefully is no less just.

Regardless, if you haven't seen the clips, set aside 12 minutes and watch them when you can:

1. The Daily Show Rips CNBC

2. Jon Stewart Clarifies The Daily Show's Critique

I have no doubts that Jim Cramer is probably a good guy. Given his frustration on his appearance on the Today Show today, obviously he regrets being wrong about his own stock picks. Whether he regrets it because he just wants to be right or because he genuinely believes he's doing a public service is probably immaterial: if he's doing his job as a populist stock guru right, for whatever motive, people will probably be better off.

That said, I also have no doubt that Jim Cramer probably never really asked himself whether his judgment about stocks hinged on which personalities in the mortgage industry opted to appear on his show. I also doubt he wondered too hard about the corporate relationships between General Electric, CNBC's parent company, and several brokerage houses and whether that determined the people to whom he had access, which then determined what kind of specialized information he could get. 

I also have absolutely no doubt that Jim Cramer never asked himself if he proceeded from the assumption that the market is a priori good and that its behavior was always going to be a priori beneficial to more than a disinterested oligarchy — and, most of all, whether he ever wrestled with the idea that what he sold, irrespective of goods, was essentially the myth of the marketplace itself.