CNBC financial personality Jim Cramer has gotten an earful from fellow TV talking head Jon Stewart for cheering along the financial bubble until the very moment it popped.
"I understand you want to make finance entertaining," said Stewart, when the two met on his Comedy Central show last week. "But it's not a fucking game. You knew what the banks were doing, and for now to pretend that this was a crazy once-in-a-lifetime tsunami is disingenuous at best."
Stewart's point was that Cramer knew what was going on, and that there's a level of insight and awareness that financial media-types keep purposefully hidden from average, individual investors. Cramer (and his "insider" financial wiz and corporate exec friends) are complicit in manipulating these truths; for all of the coverage of the markets, little is ever revealed, so as to drive the Little Folk to blindly fund the experts' salaries and profits.
"How is the idea that [you] can teach anybody to be rich, how is that any different than an infomercial?" asked Stewart. "Well, there's a market for it," Cramer stumbled, to which Stewart responded that there are markets for cocaine and hookers, too.
Is Cramer guilty?
Naw. He's just a color commentator, kind of like the guys who give us all the useless facts during sporting events. You know...someone hits the ball, and we learn that he had trouble hitting the ball the last hundred times at bat, or that he trained in so-and-so place back in the minors.
Expecting him to have foreseen the meltdown would have been like expecting a sports commentator to predict the demise of gravity, or the discover of some super drug that changed the very way players played the game.
Well, er, forget the drug thing, but you get my bigger point: Cramer and his ilk aren't news reporters, and their insights only go so far as their rabble-rousing roles require. They don't proactively discover things as much as retroactively label them. Ditto for most of the financial coverage we get today, whether via TV or print. Rarely, if ever, are underlying causes or broad economic theories offered, let alone discussed. And forget the blogopshere...there's nothing original there, but just hazy copies of the useless babble that passes for most maintstream finanical reporting.
Cramer didn't miss the economic meltdown; he's been an active part of it through his narrative role as cheerleader. He's done it very colorfully, I might add.
Back to my bigger point. Where is the objective, reliably foresighted financial reporting? All we get is color commentary, political interpretation, and various rah-rah from people and institutions that have perspectives formed by one or another vested interest. The rules of economics apply. Then they don't reply. You can see the economy falling apart around you, only maybe you're mistaken.
It was no surprise to that The Wall Street Journal's newest initiative was its announcement of expanded sports coverage last week. Talk about distraction (I wrote about it).
Is Cramer guilty? Well, yes, in the same way that the entire financial news industry is guilty. We now know that nobody knows what's going on or, worse, nobody is telling us.
And that's perhaps the most frightening realization of all.