Jon Stewart is doing for news what Edward R. Murrow became famous for. Yes, that might sound a bit over the top, but there's also evidence to back it up. The appearance by Jim Cramer on the Daily Show was devastating. By the time the credits were rolling Stewart had publicly neutered one of our more pugnacious television personalities. Sitting across from someone and attacking them as Stewart did isn't easy. Most journalists struggle to ask hard questions - let alone questions meant to cripple the interviewee's career. And Stewart isn't even a journalist. But he's become - through comedic genius and pinpoint critiques - a Watchman over the fourth estate. Cramer's career has gone the way of Crossfire, another victim of Stewart's deadly satire. If Cramer does have a future, which this morning seems unlikely, it's as a rehabilitated form of his previous self, one trying mightily to live up to the role of journalist and public crusader Stewart outlined rather than as a Wall St. fanboy. Otherwise, nobody is going to take this guy seriously again.
And the heartburn doesn't end with Cramer. I'd imagine a few dozen CNBC execs were having Maalox Moments last night. The entire network is now a national whipping boy for what's wrong with Wall St. Games were being played with leverage being the opiate of the Wall St. masses and CNBC tried to cash in on it along with the suits they covered. Hell, it's bad enough that even Time magazine has picked up the story, and that was before last night:
CNBC's reaction is colored by its stressed-out day trader's focus on the short term. When ordinary people think about the economy, they think about jobs, college, retirement. Sure, the stock market affects them in the long run — but so do job security and the threat of getting wiped out by health-care bills. When CNBC considers the economy, it means Wall Street's numbers that day, that hour, that minute. CNBC may pay lip service to the long term, but it has the time horizon of a fruit fly.
This means that CNBC looks at everything, particularly politics, in terms of how it will affect "the Market." The commentators on CNBC murmur about the Market as if it were the Island on Lost: a mystic force that must be placated, lest it become angry and punish us. "The Market doesn't like ..." "What the Market wants to see is ..."
Stewart is helping us move in the right direction. More accountabliity. Stricter rules. Better journalism.