Last week, Jon Stewart, television comedian somehow in charge of all responsible TV media criticism, interviewed a TV financial journalist, Jim Cramer, who defended his well documented wrongness by claiming merely to be an entertainer who was "lied to" (rather than a trusted financial guru and television journalist). It was an embarrassing performance for Cramer, who only made himself looking even worse when he spoke up in his own defense–calling Stewart a comedian, and claiming to have been taken out of context. That only invited more context. Leave it to Richard Cohen, Washington Post liberal columnist, to misunderstand the whole proceeding.
The acclaim visited on Stewart for spanking Cramer tells you something. In the first place — and by way of a minor concession — he's got a small point. CNBC has often been a cheerleader for the zeitgeist — up when the market's up, down when it's down. This is true of the business media in general.
But the role that Cramer and other financial journalists played was incidental. There was not much they could do, anyway. They do not have subpoena power. They cannot barge into AIG and demand to see the books, and even if they could, they would not have known what they were looking at. The financial instruments that Wall Street firms were both peddling and buying are the functional equivalent of particle physics. To this day, no one knows their true worth.
It does not take cable TV to make a bubble. CNBC played no role in the Tulip Bubble that peaked, as I recall, in 1637, or in the Great Depression of 1929-41. It is the zeitgeist that does this — the psychological version of inertia: the belief that what's happening will continue to happen.
My informal sense of Stewart's position is that Cramer has represented himself and has been represented as some kind of god-like financial guru (cf. "In Cramer We Trust"). Yet, as Cohen concedes, Cramer didn't know what he was talking about. That's Stewart's point. You can see the video here.
I think it's obvious that Stewart is not guilty of the very strong claim Cohen seems to be attributing to him. So this seems to be a fairly straightforward straw man.