The Role and Impact of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart: Taking Satire Seriously On A "Daily Show" Basis

By Matthew E. Popkin
2012, Vol. 4 No. 09 | pg. 6/12 |

CNBC Financial News & Jim Cramer

Jon Stewart’s blatant criticism of Crossfire was completely unexpected, and the hype afterwards was understandably high. In March 2009, at the height of the financial crisis, Stewart began to heavily mock the financial news network CNBC. The initial mockery led to some of the most sustained criticism The Daily Show has offered of another network, and the multiple exchanges were rapidly hyped up by the news networks on the airwaves and online. This first video segment is the initial criticism that The Daily Show aired:48

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart: CNBC Financial Advice

One of the most prominent themes in the segment is that there is a gap between how CNBC advertises itself and what it is. Stewart establishes that CNBC promotes itself as the “network that has the information and experience that you need.”49 In other words, the network claims that it should be used as the source for an individual’s financial advice. People only “[had] to tune into CNBC shows” in order to inform themselves about the financial process and make educated investment decisions.50 Yet, the advice that the network offered resulted in being the opposite of what should have been done. Since the “experts” were unable offer sound advice, Stewart argues that the American public was unfairly targeted by many of the CNBC anchors as making poor investments. The homeowners may be partly to blame for accepting unrealistic terms on their mortgages or other loans; however, Stewart believes that it is wrong for CNBC to accuse homeowners of not making smart decisions when CNBC anchors made the incorrect and misleading calls. Stewart mocks CNBC further: “If I had only followed CNBC’s advice, I’d have a million dollars today – provided I started with a hundred million dollars.”51

In addition, Stewart suggests that the quality of CNBC reporting is poor. He ridicules the fact that the anchors are surprised that the CEOs’ own companies are doing well and are trusting the CEOs to provide accurate information. Also, in the concluding series of video clips, he provides multiple examples of CNBC reporters questioning the CEOs of companies about frivolous or irrelevant topics. For a network with such access to CEOs, CNBC, according to Stewart, does not use its experience and expertise in an effective and constructive manner.

The video clip “CNBC Financial Advice” began the exchanges between The Daily Show and CNBC. Subsequently, Jim Cramer, the host of CNBC’s program Mad Money with Jim Cramer, responded to Stewart’s criticism of the network. Cramer specifically claimed that The Daily Show took a quote of his out of context, suggesting that he was advocating buying Bear Sterns stock.52 Although Cramer does assert that Bear Sterns is “fine” and “not in trouble,” Stewart does acknowledge that Cramer technically was not advocating buying Bear Sterns.53 Stewart, in response, though, then shows two other instances of Cramer speaking optimistically of Bear Sterns, including one of Cramer explicitly recommending that people buy Bear Sterns. Cramer does not just make one judgment error; he makes several on the same topic, even after the market has shifted repeatedly. Nevertheless, no person, despite his or her knowledge and expertise, is perfect. Therefore, Stewart’s greatest qualm is in regard to the misleading manner in which Mad Money is promoted. The slogan of Cramer’s program is “In Cramer We Trust,” which conveys extreme confidence in Cramer’s advice. Stewart, in apparent fake laughter, mocks “they replaced God’s name with Cramer’s” to reinforce the intentional implication of the name swap.54

The series of exchanges continues the following day as Cramer makes his rounds on other cable news programs to discuss the Stewart/Cramer feud. Regardless of whether or not Stewart is correct in his claims, The Daily Show received significant attention from other networks and programs. At one point, Joe Scarborough, the host of MSNBC’s Morning Joe, inquires sarcastically whether Jon Stewart can predict what the market will do. Stewart, on The Daily Show that night, responds as follows: “I don’t know what the markets are going to do… that’s why I don’t make the claim to any authority. That’s why my network doesn’t have the slogan “In Stewart We Trust” – they don’t want people to think I’m God.”55

The climax of the exchanges between Stewart and Cramer occurs when Jim Cramer comes on The Daily Show as a guest. In one of the most unusual interviews in the program’s history, the humor was severely lacking. The result is a very revealing three-part discussion about the financial crisis:

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart: Jim Cramer Extended Interview Part 156

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart: Jim Cramer Extended Interview Part 257

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart: Jim Cramer Extended Interview Part 358

In the well-prepared extended interview, Stewart addresses and challenges the very framework of financial reporting as it was currently being practiced. Building on previously mentioned notions, Stewart asserts directly to Cramer that there “is [a] gap between what CNBC advertises itself as and what it is, and the help that people need.”59 Stewart continues using The Daily Show as an example: “we are both snake oil salesmen to a certain extent, but we do label the show as snake oil here.”60

Perhaps the most effective part of the interview is Stewart’s use of Internet clips of Cramer being interview about his work as a hedge fund manager. Referring to one of the tapes explaining the dishonest strategies that take place in the financial system, Stewart affirms, “I want the Jim Cramer on CNBC to protect me from that Jim Cramer.”61 In essence, Stewart suggests a gap in how Cramer presents himself, since he and all others with similar knowledge of the system apparently understand the devious methods being employed. Stewart turns his argument into accusation: “It feels like we are capitalizing your adventure by our pension and our hard earned money – and that it is a game that you know, that you know is going on, but that you go on television as a financial network and pretend isn’t happening.”62

Although fairly conciliatory, Cramer defends himself by saying that he, like Stewart, is attempting to engage his audience in financial news. Stewart is highly critical of this intention and objective because of the gravity of the situation and the impact that financial decisions can have on an individual, family, company, or organization. Through a series of online clips, Stewart establishes that Cramer had at least some knowledge of what was occurring in the financial system, and he vociferously attacks Cramer:

“I understand that you want to make finance entertaining, but it’s not a fucking game. When I watch that… I can’t tell you how angry it makes me because it says to me, you all know… You knew what the banks were doing and yet were touting it for months and months – the entire network was. And so now to pretend that this was some sort of crazy, once-in-a-lifetime tsunami that nobody could have seen coming is disingenuous at best and criminal at worst.”63

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