Sunday, March 15, 2009

Cramer vs. Stewart

The entry by Glenn Locke prompted me to watch Jon Stewart's interview with Jim Cramer on "The Daily Show" the other day. It was rather fascinating television; who knew that Cramer could actually be a little humble?

There's a quick point that came up in the discussion, though, that bears a little explanation. At one point, Cramer talked about how several CEO's had come on CNBC over the past several months (mostly pre-crash, I believe) and, essentially, lied about their company and the economic climate. Stewart went after Cramer and CNBC for not doing a better job of following up those bad statements and exposing them, and Cramer agreed that such a move would have been good and proper.

And now the catch, and it comes in the form of a story Jim Kelley used to tell when he wrote for The Buffalo News. Someone asked him about whether someone was telling the truth. His reply was, "We don't necessarily print the truth. We print what people say."

Think about that in regard to the news business, and Kelley is often right on target. Reporters have to develop a level of trust in what their interview subjects have to say, especially when those subjects have access to much more information than the reporter. Yes, the B.S. detector sometimes goes off in an interview, and in such cases quotes are often omitted or at least challenged directly at the time of the interview. But sometimes there isn't time for checking, and the deadline looms, so the quote goes in fully attributed.

As deadline time shrinks, the chance to check out those facts and put those matters in some perspective tends to shrink too. And that's bad.

The newspaper business is coping with this issue on a growing basis lately because of on-line production. The morning paper used to be the one source of information, but now reporters are "publishing" all day long, sometimes with blogs (which blurs the line between reporting and analysis, but that's a different subject).

But that's nothing compared to an operation like CNBC. They have a monster to feed, five days a week from something like 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. You can only repeat what the Dow Jones Industrial Average is doing so often. So, the anchors interview everyone connected with the business world. In that situation, there's absolutely no time for reporting perspective, since the quotes are going straight from the CEO to the viewer with no filter in-between. If the CEO of CitiBank of Bear Stearns is telling everyone last September that the investing business couldn't be better, well, we've got problems. The staff might call him on such a statement at some point, but I'll bet those workers may be more interested in feeding the beast at times.

CNBC does a lot of good work in its broadcasting, although I have trouble watching people like Cramer who give opinions about stocks. I'd rank the information about as highly as the football picks that show up on NFL Sundays in the newspapers and on television -- as worthwhile as a coin flip. As William Goldman once said about Hollywood, nobody knows anything. It was nice to see Cramer knocked down a notch, at least for a moment.

1 comment:

Glenn Locke, The Tall Thin Guy said...

I think the fact that Stewart was making was that Cramer and the other interviewers at CNBC should have been more aware of what was going on in the financial industry, and been asking tough questions earlier. They new these banks were leveraged 35-1, and I watch CNBC alot, I don't remember anyone making a big deal out of it. The best you heard was warnings about Fannie and Freddie.

It was interesting TV, in that Stewart took of his comedian hat and instead decided to ask the questions that an angry country wanted to ask. It is sad when a self-described "fake news" show is doing the good journalism.