Globe and Mail writer Ian Brown dissects why Jon Stewart’s epic takedown of financial pundit Jim Cramer resonated.
These moments come along rarely on television, on the screen of our collective brain: Walter Cronkite crying as he announced the death of John F. Kennedy; Edward R. Murrow deflating Senator Joseph McCarthy. Frost and Nixon. Oprah and Cruise.
The fact that a comedian supplied the most cathartic moment so far of the current global crisis says as much about the meltdown as it does about the media.
Jon Stewart’s Thursday-night spit-roasting of Jim Cramer, the lubricious host of CNBC’s Mad Money, had the humming feel of a seminal event. A gate cracked open. One doesn’t want to overamp its significance, Lord knows. One doesn’t want to pile on as Mr. Cramer and his fellow blowhards hit the mud. But Cramer vs. Blamer had the ring of something Big.
Jon Stewart did what no one else has done so far. He pointed an angry finger of blame at an individual, and he didn’t let the culprit slip away. It was a symbolic public beheading, and as popular as those always are. And wouldn’t you know, it also managed to improve Mr. Stewart’s own ratings.
Brown went a bit into how the financial events of the past six months have hit him and basically ensured he will have to keep working “until I am 147.” He then talked to some representatives of the Canadian financial establishment.
They all said the same thing. Yes, there is a need for more oversight of the capital markets, but – well, let me quote Mr. Dodge (David, former governor of the Bank of Canada), the Rooster Cogburn of central bankers, a man with a voice that sounds like five feet of chain being dragged out of a toolbox.
“Anger is understandable,” he said. “When something goes really wrong, the first thing you always do is say, well shit, somebody must have slipped up, it can’t be me.” But, he went on to say, “people are responsible for their own mistakes. And if something seems too good to be true, it is.”
That’s the establishment view, something we’re apparently supposed to grasp from birth. Mr. Stewart challenged the establishment view. Sometimes, he suggested, people aren’t responsible for the bad stuff that happens to them. Sometimes there are real victims (his mother among them, apparently). People who won’t admit that – here Mr. Cramer would be shrugging his shoulders – deserve to be pilloried. Like Mr. Cramer, the system always promises to take care of us, but in the end, it doesn’t, or can’t.
It took a comedian to suggest that we have a right to be angry. What will it take before someone on Wall Street is symbolically punished? Not just Bernie Madoff, who actually did something illegal. I mean someone who operated within the letter of the law, but outside its spirit – former treasury secretary Henry Paulson, say, for liberating banks from the need to back their loans with assets, or Merrill Lynch’s John Thain, for redecorating his office while his employees lost their jobs, or … fill in the name of the Wall Street yegg you love to hate.
Will Jim Cramer lose his job, or at least resign? If he doesn’t, should a couple of CNBC executives be placed in stocks for letting him speak crap on air again and again?
We can’t blame others for our own mistakes. But we can punish them for making it so easy to behave like fools.