TV Showdown: Stewart, 1, Cramer, 0

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Two television titans, Jon Stewart and Jim Cramer, collided in an interview that is destined to become one of the defining events of our generation. For the uninitiated, Stewart is the host of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” and Cramer is the host of CNBC’s “Mad Money.”

The pair’s feud began when Stewart “flung some pies” by compiling clips of various CNBC hosts making spectacularly bad calls on the economy. In particular, Cramer, known for his flamboyant on-air antics, had repeatedly promoted the stock of doomed bank Bear Stearns. He made an easy target for Stewart’s trademark satire.

After a period of mutual mud-slinging, Stewart invited Cramer onto the “Daily Show” in a much-hyped interview that became recorded evidence of the country’s outrage, the need for improvements in journalism and the complete uselessness of 24-hour cable news networks.

Stewart could not avoid partially focusing his attack on the 24-hour news networks. He accused the networks of valuing entertainment over journalistic responsibility. Shows like “Mad Money” make light of economic events and do not serve the best interests of the public. Cramer’s show features the host scrambling from each part of the set, pressing buttons and waving his arms around in order to give advice about stocks.

In a 24-hour period, they tend to provide approximately 20 minutes of actual substance. Running the same stories in a constant loop only serves two purposes. First, it makes money for the networks. Second, it spreads paranoia and fear, helping to achieve the first goal.

People stay fixed to the TV hoping for any new, delicious fact to trickle through. In the meantime, the networks are so obsessed with providing the newest tidbits that they do not take responsibility for the information they provide. Fact checking becomes a secondary issue.

Stewart made a point of attacking CNBC’s journalistic integrity. In the court of comedy, Cramer stood accused of not fact-checking his guests or his own claims. Stewart claimed that CNBC and the businesspeople they report on are like two teenagers dancing at the prom, too close for the comfort of bystanders. Cramer had been friends with many CEOs and financial advisors with different corporations. Stewart accused this relationship of being unprofessional and prevented CNBC from appropriately reporting accurate news.

These criticisms highlight journalism’s standing problem, namely that it has lost any edge or activism. Stewart’s interview stood as a reincarnation of “Frost/Nixon” rather than a laugh riot. He asked challenging questions, accused Cramer of wrongdoing and showed evidence contradicting Cramer’s statements. When important guests arrive at news networks, the interviewees are rarely challenged. When President Barack Obama arrives on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” the time has come to grill him. When Brian Williams sits down with George W. Bush, he needs to call him out on his mistakes.

Stewart’s interview stands out not only because it was highly critical of its guest, but also because Stewart acted as a personification of the country’s anger. Stewart exclaims in an uncharacteristically solemn tone that what Cramer was involved in was not a game and that people were losing their pensions and jobs. Shady business practices and poor reporting, he said, helped cause our current recession. Whether or not these accusations are correct, they capture the anger of the American people, who long for someone to blame for their recent troubles.

The rage flows freely around America. At the American International Group (AIG) bonus hearings, congressmen said that they could feel the tidal wave of anger surge through the nation. With the constant taxpayer bailouts combined with incidents like the AIG bonuses, a general distrust of big business is natural. Our modern economy created a system where the losses hurt the public while the wins only served a small handful of the very rich. Since the economy has gone south, people have been gathering their pitchforks in an effort to find a scapegoat.

Whether or not the actions of the few lead to the economic troubles of many is uncertain. What is clear is that Stewart’s interview is far from being removed from the public consciousness. Stewart has transformed from a witty comedian with some political undertones to an activist fighting for the people through professional journalism.

Ironically, this is not the position he wants to be in. He concluded the interview by expressing his desire to return to fart jokes and comedy. Still, for a moment he challenged the news industry and dared them to become better journalists, to take more responsibility and to answer the call of angry Americans.

Kevin Pease is a fourth-year psychology and social behavior major. He can be reached at kpease@uci.edu.

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