The New York Times and Jim Cramer

This article from Alessandra Stanley makes such a ham-handed attempt at being “fair and balanced” (truly a hallmark of quality journalism), that it ends up reaching Cramer-levels of embarrassment for its author.

The first warning klaxons come when Stanley attempts to present a sunny case for CNBC:

Part of his frustration may stem from the fact that while Mr. Stewart clearly won the debate, Mr. Cramer and CNBC stood to profit from the encounter. In today’s television news market, the cable network and its stars are like the financiers they cover — media short-sellers trading shamelessly on publicity, good or bad, so long as it drives up ratings. There isn’t enough regulation on Wall Street, and there’s hardly any accountability on cable news: it’s a 24-hour star system where opinions — and showmanship — matter more than facts.

The first problem with this is the bald-faced attempt to dismiss Stewart’s serious criticisms as envy over CNBC potentially receiving higher ratings. The second problem rests on the assertion that CNBC is concerned with total number of eyeballs. This is so fundamentally unsound as to have been prohibitory for anyone who knows anything about the industry. CNBC, like Bloomberg and Fox Business News, have off-the-charts low ratings compared to pretty much every other cable network in existence. The reason why this is not a problem is that something like 90% of their audience is composed of people who make over $1 million, making advertisers salivate. This premise is predicated on the idea that if CNBC increases its base viewership (with no regard to the income levels of new viewers), the network will benefit. The obvious flaw in this argument is that financial networks, more than pretty much any other network, requires significant levels of trust. After all, they’re dealing with the finances of presumably savvy people with millions of dollars to their name. If they lose even 10% of their viewership in the high-income stratus due to loss of trust, they will require an over 10-fold increase in viewership from people making $100,000 per year for advertisers to remain even remotely satisfied.[1] The idea that CNBC doesn’t care about the composition of its viewership and only about raw numbers is transparently baseless.

Once he had Mr. Cramer at his desk, Mr. Stewart showed fresh, and even more embarrassing clips from a 2006 interview with the Web site he founded, TheStreet.com, in which he too candidly explained how hedge fund market manipulation really works.

He not only “candidly explained” it, he explicitly advocated the use of illegal tactics by hedge fund managers because it was an easy way to make money and the SEC didn’t know about it (I’m not quoting directly because I don’t have access to a transcript at the moment). When Stewart showed just a snippet of Cramer’s statements, Cramer attempted to lie about the context of them, claiming that he was trying to bring to light the illegality to regulators, presumably assuming that Stewart would behave like every other mainstream journalist and simply ignore the lie. But Stewart immediately noted his statement “interesting,” then aired Cramer’s next few sentences which completely eviscerated his blatant attempt to cover his ass from just a few seconds prior. That seems an odd detail to leave out and gloss over by describing this portion of the interview as a “[candid explanation]”. That is far too close to Cramer’s lie than the actual truth. Less whitewashing, please.

The final sentence is mystifying:

Mr. Stewart kept getting the last word, but Mr. Cramer may yet have the last laugh.

What does this even mean? Is it an attempt to refer back to the earlier false premise that CNBC is cherishing this negative spotlight (while conflating Cramer the man with CNBC the corporate network)? Is it making a claim that Cramer is just an attention whore who doesn’t care about what people think of him? I have no idea, because it comes completely out of the blue. There is absolutely no justification for its presence in the article; it’s simply a throwaway line attempting to make it seem like Cramer didn’t have his heart ripped out and shown to him on national television and to be “fair and balanced.”[2] It has no business existing even in the mind’s eye.

Update: DougJ hones in on a part of the article that I forgot to mention: the idea that Stewart’s interview is due to a “Messianic streak” rather than someone engaging in actual, you know, journalism.

  1. And, due to lower levels of consumption, I would argue the required increase to be significantly over 10-fold. []
  2. Hat tip: Alex Koppelman. []