Monday, March 16, 2009

Week of 03/16/2009

Where CNBC (and others) Just Doesn’t Get It
– by David Matthews 2

It was eight minutes of absolute clarity. The utter realization at that point that the emperor really had no clothes on.

And it came from a comedian.

If there is one thing that Jon Stewart has really been very good at doing, it is being able to take a serious subject and get it across to the masses by making it funny… even when the subject itself is far from funny. Stewart manages to bypass the political firewalls of liberals and conservatives because his nightly show on Comedy Central is supposed to be a JOKE. It’s supposed to satirize the nightly news. And yet more people watch it than the shows that are designed for the “serious” material.

“You’re on CNN,” he once told the hosts of the now-defunct CNN show “Crossfire”. “The show that leads into me is puppets making crank phone calls!”

When Stewart appeared on “Crossfire” and said that memorable line, along with his on-air assertion that he wouldn’t be their “monkey”, it pretty much sounded the death knell for that show. “The Daily Show” stayed, “Crossfire” was toast.

Now Stewart can add CNBC to his list of “emperors” proven to have no clothes on.

And again, he did it with laughs.

Following CNBC’s Rick Santelli backing away from his scheduled interview on Stewart’s show, Stewart ran the eight-minute segment that he wanted to air prior to the interview anyway. It was originally designed to make Santelli uneasy, especially after his tirade on the floor of the Chicago Exchange. The clip contained eight minutes of predictions and interviews by CNBC’s so-called “experts” and how each of them would be proven to be wrong.

And there wasn’t an embarrassing moment that he didn’t cover either! AIG, Bear Sterns, Bank of America, the subprime mortgage meltdowns… lofty predictions followed by failures and buyouts and bailouts.

And then there were scenes of CNBC’s “experts” interviewing CEOs and so-called “financial gurus” on fluff matters and asking the leader of a company accused of running a Ponzi scheme what it’s like being a billionaire. The network that prides itself as knowing the pulse of the financial world, and they’re shown as being nothing more than the Ryan Seacrest of Wall Street.

Understandably, CNBC’s star Jim Cramer took exception to some of the characterizations, but even after Stewart corrected the information from one of the clips, Cramer continued to hit back for the network.

Then came the March 12th appearance on the “Daily Show”.

A different Jim Cramer appeared on Stewart’s show then. Somewhat subdued, no longer boisterous, somewhat humbled, and that was even before clips were played of Cramer talking about some of the tactics going on in the market, like spreading false rumors and short-selling.

Indeed, Jim Cramer, CNBC’s most animated and boisterous and entertaining of financial “experts”, had all the appearance of a schoolchild being sent to the principal’s office, with Stewart holding the yardstick ruler. He was ready to take his licks on behalf of his bosses.

But as Stewart himself pointed out on more than one occasion, this really wasn’t about Jim Cramer!

Indeed as the air-fluffed ego-driven media and even White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs all declared Jon Stewart the winner in the non-debate between two entertaining media personalities, the ultimate message was STILL lost!

This was NOT about Jim Cramer!

It was not about Jim Cramer making wacky sound effects and throwing animated bulls from between his legs or his wild predictions which were proven to be wrong, or even the tactics that that he advocated to generate greater returns. It was not about Jim Cramer showing up on the Today show to call Jon Stewart a “comedian”, which was about as insulting as calling Dora the Explorer an “animated character”. It wasn’t even about Cramer’s pledge to “do better”.

It wasn’t even Jim Cramer’s battle! HE should not have been the one going to the Daily Show woodshed. That should have been Rick Santelli in the hot seat, because he was the one that started the rhetorical dominos falling. It was Santelli that was complaining about homeowners getting help from the government while speaking on an exchange floor that was flush with billions in bailout money. Santelli was the one that put a face to the Marie Antoinette attitude and the great disconnect that exists between Wall Street and Main Street.

And perhaps if Santelli did show up for the March 4th interview this whole matter would have been a non-issue. Take the lumps, take the pie in the face, and let it go. But Santali’s scheduling turnaround was supposedly under orders from CNBC executives, who simply wanted the matter to go away. They probably should have first talked with Senator John McCain about the folly of doing that. But in doing so, CNBC executives opened up the Pandora’s Box of trouble for themselves and their fellow members of the air-fluffed ego-driven media.

The truth, my friends, was that this was not about Rick Santelli either.

It was ABOUT CNBC.

It was about CNBC serving less as journalists and more like cheerleaders for the Wall Street elites. They prided themselves in having “access” to the big corporate CEOs and the self-described “masters of the universe”. But while Wall Street was heading for a fall, CNBC was more worried about marijuana, and the Westminster Dog Show. They fretted about eBay, and the only high-end hookers that they worried about were the ones that worked in the bedroom, not in the boardroom or the halls of government.

It’s only AFTER the various houses of cards started to collapse that the hard questions get asked. It’s only AFTER the Bernard Madoff scam is revealed and arrests were made that CNBC started asking what happened.

But if they were truly reading “the pulse” of the marketplace, they should have REPORTED what was going on before it became a problem!

It’s not like it was a secret! CBS did an interview with the man that was sounding the alarm bells FOR YEARS about what Madoff was doing. The Securities and Exchange Commission was investigating this company numerous times. It’s not like this just dropped out of the sky.

THIS is what Jon Stewart was pointing to. THIS is what he was talking about when he talked about money manipulation being treated as a game and why people are upset about it. And then to top it off, you had Santelli pull his impromptu Marie Antoinette act about struggling homeowners, using lines that could have been pulled straight from a GOP talking-points memo.

Let’s get brutally honest here… CNBC made the classic mistake of selling their integrity for access. Their executives made the decision a long time ago that it was more important to suck up to the corporate CEOs than to ask them the really hard questions about the stability of their business or in the folly of handing out excessive bonuses for non-performance. They stopped being journalists and started being nothing more than glorified freelance PR agents.

Of course it’s not entirely their fault. They’re simply doing what other news services have been doing for a while now. They’re not reporting the news as much as they are informing and entertaining the masses. They don’t have reporters or economic “experts” as much as they have media personalities that just HAPPEN to be reporters or financial advisors.

Yes it’s easy to say that CNBC doesn’t give a damn about the common man, but then again, that’s really not their target audience. They’re playing up to the people on Wall Street! They’re looking at the SERIOUS investors… the ones with the seven-or-eight-digit bank accounts. The people that can read that scrolling mess of numbers and letters and know what all of it means.

And that’s where the great disconnect really is, because the average person has no idea that all of these games are being played on Wall Street. They’re just being told that this is where they can put their money in and not worry about it. And now on top of worrying about losing their jobs and discovering that they’ve lost most or all of their life savings are gone, they’re being told that they have to foot the bill for billions in bailout money, AND that “too big to fall” corporations like AIG are still shelling out bonuses. And while all this is going on, networks like CNBC are sucking up to the people at the top, asking them about partying with Kid Rock and how fun it is to be a billionaire.

Jon Stewart’s slam was directed at the network executives at CNBC that decided that sucking up to CEOs and so-called “masters of the universe” was more important than reporting the news. And unfortunately that was the message that got lost, not just by CNBC, but also by other members of the media, especially online media. They still saw this as being a battle of media personalities, when it really is a call to clean up their act.

In Medieval times, the jester was one of the most influential people in the kingdom, more so than any so-called “trusted adviser”, because he could say with a smile what generals and nobles would not dare say to the king with a straight face. When Stewart dredges up footage of CNBC screwing up, he may be doing it with a smile, and the audience may be laughing, but when you hear the audience react, you realize that it’s an uneasy laugh. It’s the kind of laugh that usually precedes a cry. And for the media, whose integrity is on the line, it’s not the kind of laugh that they want to hear.

1 comment:

Carrie said...

Some great points on this issue. It shows the underappericated power of humor when you think about it. Persoanlly, I was surprised how Mr. Mad Money was so behaved during the interview. I figured he'd pull a Bill O'Riley and try to talk\yell over Stewart.

Speaking of crazy media, I came across this on an ex-christian forum (http://www.examiner.com/x-2071-DC-Special-Interests-Examiner~y2009m3d9-Chuck-Norris-claims-thousands-of-right-wing-cell-groups-exist-and-will-rebel-against-US-government). It walks about how even religious right cheerleader Chuck Norris is pulling a similar act to what Rush did a few weeks ago. Part of me would like to see the idiot try and get laughed at. While the other part really doesn't want to due to him dragging a lot of easily suggestiable people along that someoen might get hurt.