What happened to stock pundit Jim Cramer? What I enjoy most about him and his show, Mad Money, is his passion, his insights and his incredible self-confidence. He’s a former hedge fund manager. He can be bombastic, even annoying. Sometimes he’s right. Sometimes he’s wrong.
But I, for one, have never cast him as an investigative journalist. The guy lives and breathes the markets. Most ads for his TV show have a picture of him screaming. He’s an entertainer who talks about his own bets with enthusiasm and, most often, with knowledge.
So why did Cramer feel a need to suddenly assume the role of somber spokesman for CNBC on a comedy show Thursday night? It didn’t make sense.
Stewart had started the week with a broad swipe at CNBC and the predictions of its pundits over the past year. “If I had only taken CNBC’s advice,” Stewart said, “I would have a million dollars today—provided I started with $100 million.”
On Thursday, after warming up with a few swipes at Cramer (it didn’t help that Cramer chose to go on Martha Stewart’s show earlier in the day to bake a pie), Stewart brought out the stock pundit.
Stewart clearly blames CNBC for not being more of a watchdog prior to the crisis.
Instead of being “a very powerful tool of illumination,” Stewart told Cramer, “It feels like we are capitalizing your adventure by our pensions … It is a game that you know is going on, but you go on television as a financial network and pretend it isn’t happening.” Added Stewart: “Isn’t there a problem selling snake oil as vitamin tonic?”
At this point, I fully expected Cramer to jump up and shout his point of view: the best calls he made, what his audience wants from him, how easy it is to find 45 damning seconds of tape when you go back through hundreds of hours of footage. He could have debunked Stewart’s conspiracy theory. After all, why would anyone in the hyper-competitive TV news business ever keep quiet if they were aware of wrongdoing or heard rumors that a company was going to collapse? The financial turmoil has been ratings gold for CNBC precisely because viewers can’t tear their eyes away from the crisis as it unfolds. News networks often thrive on bad news.
One thing that was hard to address was damning footage in which Cramer talks about how easy it is for a short seller—someone who bets on a stock’s decline—to push down stock prices. Then again, you couldn’t say that wasn’t an interesting insight into some of the rumored practices that have made short-selling so controversial.
Instead, Cramer looked cowed and said: “I try really hard to make as many good calls as I can … I’m trying.” Then he complained that CEOs lie, while admitting that he made a bad call on whether to buy Bear Stearns stock
Losing money in the stock market is not a game. Day traders discovered that during the dot-com boom. Any of us who have looked at our 401K plans have discovered that now. But I have always looked at Jim Cramer as being on the side of the retail investor, an enthusiastic stock picker who tries to get it right.
Over the past year, he’s made some conspicuous mistakes. But the list of people who haven’t is a startlingly short one. (Even Warren Buffett made bad bets.)
Cramer allowed Stewart to get the upper hand, even letting him characterize the show as an infomercial without much protest.
“I’m a commentator… I’m a guy trying to do an entertainment show about business.”
He also could have said: I’m a guy who has invested his own money over the years with great success. I live this stuff, and I try to educate people as best as I can. On Bear Stearns, I screwed up. You know what? We all screwed up. What’s your investment adviser’s batting average these days, Jon?
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