Jon Stewart takes down Jim Cramer

I, like many other bloggers interested in economics, offer you Jon Stewart taking apart Jim Cramer on the Daily Show. It’s incredible journalism.

In some ways, Jim Cramer gets unfairly blamed for all financial journalism on TV. But that’s okay. He’ll be glum all the way to the bank. And he agreed to come on. And it’s not like he’s totally innocent.

Also, I’m not sure the problems in financial journalism are limited to CNBC. A lot of fine journalism takes place elsewhere, but very little of it, in my opinion, really gets at the ways in which financial operators get rich off of “other people’s money.” I think there are some good reasons for this (reasons, not excuses, mind you) which could apply to any coverage area in journalism:

  • you need a certain amount of access, or you can’t do your job – so you don’t routinely piss off sources
  • you talk to industry people a lot, so you come to identify with their point of view
  • there’s been the three-decade trend toward praising and celebrating Wall Street.

Jon Stewart really doesn’t have the first two restrictions. And thanks to the economic crisis, he can fairly and safely ignore the third.

Now, how do we sustain this kind of questioning of the financial sector in all financial media once our economic ship begins to right itself?

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The failures of my profession

As I’ve mentioned at times before, there are really two reasons I decided to leave the safe harbor of “objective”, mainstream journalism and begin to actively explore and support the progressive movement.

One, I was horrified at the direction the conservative movement took the nation under the Bush administration. I felt I had to stand up as a citizen.

Second, I was shocked at the horrible performance of the people at the so-called peak of my profession during the lead up to the Iraq War – and since then, too.

To better explain that second reason, I’m going to turn to Eric Boehlert over at Media Matters. Today, he addresses current campaign and presidential coverage, but he sets it in the context of recent journalistic history, too.

I would urge you to check out his longer article from 2006 in Salon, as well.

My hypothesis: Fear, fear, fear

I have one hypothesis to add to all of the analysis of the performance of the national, East Coast media.

I think the terrorists won – at least for a while.

I think they managed to instill deep, profound terror in the elite classes of Washington, D.C., and New York for several years. You see, these are people who are used to being on the top of the heap or darn near to it. They’re in charge. They’re in power.

And then, on 9/11, they were just as vulnerable as everyone else.

And that fear of even more attacks hounded them straight through their coverage and analysis of the Iraq War, leading to uncritical support.

See, I would argue that folks like me – in the Great Lakes region; anywhere away from the sites of the attacks – could get some emotional distance by the time the big Iraq War push came. But folks living in the D.C.-New York regions just couldn’t get that emotional space, for quite sensible reasons. And in the case of the press and pundit corps, it seeped into and then dominated their reporting and writing.

By the way, I would say all of this was aided and abetted by an administration that promoted fear as a tactic for getting its way. I always knew that FDR’s famous quote, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” was meaningful. But thanks to the Bush administration’s blatant manipulation of fear, it has since become one of the most inspirational statements I’ve ever heard uttered by a leader.

I won’t let the national press corps off the hook for giving into the fear that surrounded and penetrated them at the time. They’re the top of the profession, right? They should have figured out a way to conquer it.

But I also think it helps explain what happened. And points a way to avoiding the same mistakes in the future.

Stupendous Tuesday – Presidential election coverage exactly backward

I probably should have written this post awhile ago, but it might still be useful in the general election.

The coverage I’ve seen so far in the presidential race has been exactly backward.

This first struck me the other day during the Democratic debate in California. From scanning the CNN transcript, the topics covered were in the following order (roughly): mortgage crisis, health care, immigration, whether they’d run the country like a ceo, endorsements, political dynasties, Iraq, TV content, Bill Clinton, the composition of the Democratic ticket.

I also spotted this AP story on the elections in my local paper, the “Peoria Journal Star”, though I couldn’t find it on its web site. Alongside the story was a graphic on “Where they stand”. That listed the issues in this order: education, global warming, gun control, health insurance, Iraq, abortion rights, same-sex marriage, stem cell research.

These issue lists are okay, as far as they go.

But notice that the president can do virtually nothing about most of these issues without the Congress or the courts weighing in.

Why not focus on what the president can change on day one, by himself or herself, unilaterally?

Let’s remember what some of those issues are:

  • The Iraq War
  • The “War on Terrorism”
  • Iran’s nuclear program
  • Torture and extraordinary rendition
  • Domestic spying
  • Views on executive power and authority
  • Restoring civil liberties like habeas corpus
  • Contacting other nations about global environmental issues
  • Supreme Court nominations

Pretty important stuff, wouldn’t you say? And again, this is something that a new president can do something about on day one!

I’m not saying the other issues aren’t important. They are, and I want to know what the candidates think. But anything they suggest will have many modifications before it becomes the law of the land.

I hope going forward that the current campaign coverage gets up-ended, so that we have more time spent on what a president could and would do all by himself or herself. There would still be plenty of time left over for other critical issues like universal health care.


By the way, I think Charlie Savage’s reporting on presidential signing statements has been great. As part of that work, he surveyed the candidates’ views on executive authority, here.


As a follow-up to my post regarding the conservative attacks on John McCain, here’s a post that I think gets right to the point.

Bush administration “false statements”

Check out this report today from the Center for Public Integrity. It’s a systematic cataloging of the “false statements” made by Bush administration officials in the run up to the Iraq War. You can find lots of media coverage out there today on the study.

I haven’t had a chance to read the entire report, but from a quick scan, it is interesting how they call the focus of the report “false statements”, as opposed to “deceptions” or even flat-out “lies”. As a journalist, I can appreciate the difficulty in calling something a lie. A lie means that there was an intent to deceive – that the liar knew he or she was lying. But how do you prove that? No one can read minds, after all.

But as a citizen, I feel like I can say that the Bush administration lied, lied, and lied again to whip up support to go into Iraq. Okay, fine, it’s a sad but true fact that probably most (all?) politicians lie, but that said, it certainly matters what they lie about. They lied to push the nation into an unnecessary war, sacrificing other people’s children when they refused to serve themselves when their nation called, and depleted the country of resources necessary to fight the real enemy – Al Qaeda – and new crises, like the current economic meltdown that’s begun.

And let’s not forget the complicity of the national news media in adding to this push to war. Several, including “The New York Times” have published long analyses of and apologies for their credulous coverage. In fact, it was this colossal failure of the people at the supposed peak of my profession that contributed to my openly joining the progressive movement. As a citizen I saw that information will not set us free. Information needs a lot of help when it can be so well manipulated by power.

I don’t believe I’m usually so partisan in my posts, in the sense that I’m specifically calling out the Bush administration. But the Bush administration for me is not necessarily a Republican problem. It’s just the natural extension of the modern conservative movement. The conservative movement – with its radical views on national security, religion, and the economy – is the problem. And for a long time it hasn’t had any effective opposition. That’s why I support the growth of a strong, liberal progressive movement. Everything is riding on it.