Wednesday, March 18

Decency? No, I Don't Think... At Long Last? So We've Been Out? Now, Is That D-I-E-S-E-N-S-E-Y? Diesensey? No? Could You Hold?

Richard Cohen, "Don't Blame Jim Cramer". March 17

LAST week brave Hoosier blogger Doug Masson brought word that the Big Stewart-Cramer (what? It wasn't a debate. More like a sentencing hearing) Thing has been suggested as a "Have you no decency, sir?" moment. And to which we suggest that Decency is now so long gone, "ripe", as they say in the funeral biz, as to be no longer recognizable by its next of kin (Dignity, Honesty, Fairness, Reportage, and Zeppo), had any of them survived the Clinton impeachment.

This spurred me to poke around a little in the post-Thing recaps, not exactly a genre I'm fond of, and while I never did find any Army-McCarthy Hearings references I did, in very short order, start seeing comments about a pro-Cramer, "journalists"-circle-the-wagons response that led first to Alessandra Stanley, MoDo Gal Pal and reviewer of programs largely aimed at ten-year-olds for a major metropolitan newspaper:
Mr. Stewart has always had a messianic streak to his political satire, as when he ripped into Tucker Carlson and Paul Begala on “Crossfire” for “hurting America.”

Which, okay, is an ad hominem and a poor choice of words, not to mention the fact that the thought is so ill-concidered it gives every indication of being the first substantial object of hurling heft Ms Stanley's hand came into contact with. Plus she throws like a girl. On the positive side, she spelled both "Tucker Carlson" and "Paul Begala" correctly, and placed them on the proper now-defunct program. So at least this counts as Progress.

I didn't really find much of a backlash, either, indefatigable researcher though I am. There was Marty "Those Who Can, Think. Those Who Can't Think, Write. And Those Who Can't Think Or Write Write Think Pieces" Peretz, which probably doesn't count, but who deserves to be quoted anyway:
What I think has happened between Cramer and part of the entertainment industry--which the fact and opinion industry is fast coming to resemble--is that Jim is actually animated by a passion. It is the passion of democratic capitalism. That concern is very different from the concerns of the $10-20 million television comedians who ride around in stretch limousines. Those folk are happy when the people are in trouble. Even Jon Stewart and the makers of his "Daily Show" are happy. Jim Fallows, an always righteous commentator (like his ex-boss Jimmy Carter), has elevated him to Edward R. Murrow who was also over-rated in his time.

I haven't checked back to see how the Peretz-Murrow feud is working out, but the smart money's got to be on the dead guy, who, after all, has a longer reach and an unanswerable arsenal of commas, complete thoughts, and sentences which do not attempt to walk on stilts.

Then there was someone at Salon who turned out to be a salon blogger, who criticized Steward for unfairly crowding Cramer before quoting Alessandra Stanley.

There is, of course, a way to check such matters without getting involved in a daisy-chain: go to Slate. And Slate pretty much ignored the Thing--one square-shouldered piece calling it "unsatisfying"--meaning the editorial board kicked it around for an hour, then came back 48 hours later, and decided both times there was nothing to be gained from a double-reverse counter-contrarian gotcha! defense of Cramer. Or maybe it's just that Stanley had gotten there first.

Well, all this noise went an' woke up Richard Cohen, and he's a little cranky.
What Jon Stewart needs is Jon Stewart. He could use a droll comedian to temper his ferocity and correct him when he's wrong, as he was about the financial media, particularly CNBC and its excitable analyst Jim Cramer. They didn't cover up the story of financial shenanigans. They didn't even know it existed.

Cohen's Amazing Proof! of this is that Hammerin' Hank Greenberg, former AIG CEO, lost a lot of money. Curiously, the Cohen piece links the claim to WaPo's coverage of the lawsuit Greenberg has filed over those losses, which is based on his claims of being misled. And while that might seem to suggest that CNBC could be easily led astray as well, that's strictly true only if they were taking the word of a former CEO as gospel. Which they may've been. Yes, criminal enterprises are routinely covered up, and yes, a small band of dedicated criminals can loot a corporation for billions (even one; see Société Générale, which, y'know, should have been familiar to the gang at the CNBC water cooler). This is why reporters are supposed to remain objective, or they were in the last century; sorry, I haven't been keeping up. And it's why the good ones remain skeptical. (Let me ask you, O Reader: consider anything you have a degree of specialized knowledge about. How long did it take you to become fairly cynical about some aspect of it, or the motives of some of the people involved? Don't the two pretty much go hand in hand?) At some point the infotainers at CNBC either refused to recognize they were being lied to, or they looked the other way. Or they weren't doing their jobs. Or they were doing their jobs, but saw their jobs as Financial Clown Troop, but with bigger cars. None of that is good. All of that is damning.

And this is not a question of "looking for a scapegoat". For one thing, scapegoats are blameless. For another, what's happening here is the reevaluation of previous conduct in light of newly-received information. It's a fairly common practice in every field except professional journalism and Republican administrations.

Cohen goes on with the list of Big Wheels That Caught a Flat in the Collapse, which is to say he names two more and insinuates a crowd scene to fill in behind them. But so what? Lots of people ride criminal enterprises to their Slim Pickens-on-an-H-bomb conclusions. Charles Ponzi. Ken Lay. Most Republican administrations.
The acclaim visited on Stewart for spanking Cramer tells you something. In the first place -- and by way of a minor concession -- he's got a small point. CNBC has often been a cheerleader for the zeitgeist -- up when the market's up, down when it's down. This is true of the business media in general.

Business media? It's true of your entire profession, Mr. Cohen, and had your paper, or Ms Stanley's paper, been doing their jobs the past three decades instead of being run as happy little cogs in a larger scheme to corner as much of the information markets as possible, Jon Stewart wouldn't have nearly such an open field to run in.

Look, anyone who's been watching Jim Cramer, or taking advice from the rest of his network, and did so over the past eighteen months for any reason other than a hunch bet that he or she was being let in on some vast criminal enterprise, is likely a fool so wooly as to have deserved shearing. But that's not the way it's supposed to work. As Stewart noted time and again (and specifically in response to the oleaginous Joe Scarborough), he wasn't the one claiming prescience. These guys aren't a bunch of Charlie Lunchbuckets punching in every day to do a dirty, thankless job. They're Big Money egotists who've already demonstrated a willingness to do what it takes to get there and stay there. This is not surprising, it's not controversial, and it sure isn't "scapegoating"; it's a description of what the hostile takeover of the public airwaves, combined with the long-term relaxation of anti-trust standards, the Reagan-era encouragement of the accumulation of paper wealth, and its ending of the Fairness Doctrine has wrought. Surely you weren't unaware of this, Mr. Cohen, just because neither you nor your colleagues ever talked about it in print?


Uncle Omar said...

Remember the good old days of 2002 when "business reporters" were going to save us from a spate of Enron-like disasters by actually doing investigative reporting about board room shenanigans? Then they ran into the Bush Legacy and Harken Energy and started digging into that little nest of insider trading, shady dealings, and the sheriff telling the deputy to lay off his boy and the President had to move up his Iraq invasion plans by a whole year in order to throw the reporters off the scent. T'was the media's finest hour, being played like a rube at the county fair by a three card monte operator.

Bill In OH said...

My favorite part of all of this is how the journalists keep insisting that the comedian is the one who needs to be more responsible. The shouting heads who dispense crappy advice? Not so much.

Oh, and this piece was spot-on Mr. Riley.

heydave said...

Keep pointing out the obvious and you're sure to piss somebody off.

StringonaStick said...

It's funny; I read a website run by a former hedge fund guy who used to be Cramer's head trader at Cramer's old hedge fund. This guy, and most of the other professional Wall Street types on that site saw this coming and were talking about unsustainable, generationally significant risks building in the system even as far back as 2006, maybe earlier (I can't recall now). By June of 2008 they were saying September looked like when the problems would manifest. Of course, from 2006 onward they were constantly excoriated by other financial talking heads for being bearish, which is an unpatriotic sin in the eyes of most US financial media.

All of this is background for me to state with conviction that Cramer knew, as did the rest of those who are plugged-in to the hedge fund universe; they just didn't see fit to share it with us prols or the money-honey's, and the latter wouldn't have been allowed to say it on air anyway even if they were smart enough to understand what was happening, which they aren't. They aren't allowed to panic the cattle; it cuts into their slaughter weight (meaning it would have gotten in the way of the asset transfer rom us taxpayers to the corporate overlords).