I know Jon Stewart; Jon Stewart is a friend of mine. Jim Cramer is a colleague, in that he’s employed by the same magazine as me, and whenever I’ve asked him for direction on a financial-industry story, he’s tried to help. So maybe that makes me the worst person to post a reaction to their conversation last night, or maybe the biases are clear and that’s good. But I was proud of both of them. Cramer stood up and took the abuse, in person, which he didn’t need to do. His hedge-fund hypocrisy was stomach-turning, though not surprising to anyone who’s followed his entire career, but Cramer does seem genuinely chastened. We’ll see if he follows through on his promise to make his CNBC show more skeptical, more like his print work, or if he’ll at least ditch the TV ads that tout his infallibility.
But what Cramer and CNBC do will always be showbiz, to a large extent. What Stewart did last night was very, very important. Not so much because he voiced — articulately, backed by evidence, and with real feeling — the rage of millions. It was important because Stewart reminded journalists of the standards they’re supposed to live up to: to call bullshit, no matter the trouble it may cause them professionally. Reporters are generally compromised already, to some degree, but the conflicts will only get worse as job security in the mainstream media continues to evaporate. It’s going to take more courage to fight The Man, but it has never been more important. Some bloggers are stepping into the void already, to be sure. But Stewart showed last night that there’s no substitute for having a big, well-funded megaphone. (Speaking of big megaphones: Of course her job is to be a TV critic, and she’s right about Cramer’s canny self-promotion in taking a whipping, but Alessandra Stanley is either cynical or totally missing the point in today’s Times by “reviewing” last night’s Daily Show as if it were primarily entertainment, and by suggesting that Stewart’s indignation is a pose, or messianic.)
Stewart says he wants to go back to making fart noises as soon as possible. If that happens as a sign of the country’s return to economic and democratic health, great. But what’s left of the journalism business needs him to continue calling bullshit on us.