March 13, 2009

Jon Stewart as real journalist

We turned on the The Daily Show to watch the interview with Jim Cramer, and both of us watched in amazement. We both expected fluff, and instead watched Jon Stewart absolutely lay into Cramer and CNBC. This was one of the most interesting news events I have yet to see. You won't see David Gregory do this. And you won't see Brian Williams do it. It took a comedian doing fake news.

Couple of take-aways: one, that Republican deregulation allowed much of this to occur, with Democratic complicity, btw. From 1999-2007, the market increased at a 30% rate, and everyone got greedy. That happened to me as well, and I am well aware that, as I said, Democrats were complicit in this. But this is what happens when you assume that CEOs and Wall Street have our best interest at heart. Deregulation and lower taxes have been the repeating mantra of the right, and this is what you get. Cramer talked about indictments for these people, but I really wonder if they broke many laws in robbing from the 401ks. Republicans have made a sport out of elevating the rich and convincing the poor that their interests are the same.

That was the second takeaway, that Jon identified the central disconnect between the interests of the very rich and the interests of the average investor. CNBC (and Republicans and Democrats in Congress) catered to the interests of the very wealthy, and assumed that would help everyone out. When some of us point that out, we are accused of "class warfare" but the reality is that, as Jon points out, there are two economies. And one is a game played with little morality or ethics that is funded by the investment economy of ordinary people playing by the rules.

This was one of those watershed events, I think, where Jon Stewart dared to point out the naked emperor. He did so with humor and anger, at one point telling Cramer how angry it made him to hear him describe how to game the system.

Here is a clip from the uncensored edition:

17 comments:

Jessika said...

Jon very often asks hard questions of all his guests, which included McCain and several Bush admin people over the last 8 years. People write him off since it's a comedy news show, but he's an intelligent guy. (Not saying you have written him off.)

I remember a study that came out last year showing that people who watched The Daily Show and/or The Colbert Report had more knowledge of current news and politics than people who watched & read traditional news outlets like CNN or MSNBC.

ANewAnglican@gmail.com said...

I agree. To me this was another instance, like the run up to the Iraq war, of institutional failure. And not just the institutions of government or Wall Street. We realists fully expect that those institutions will not always act in the public interest. The last great hope for a check on those institutions is a free press, and here in both cases the press failed. Same thing happened in the 1960s with Vietnam, at least until Cronkite finally spoke truth to power and declared that we were "mired in stalemate." It says something that this era's Cronkite is a comedian.

Monk-in-Training said...

FINALLY a bit of real journalism. We need this as a society, desperatley.

Not dealing with real problems, does not mean they go away, it means they get worse.

leighton said...

Links to the full interview are available here.

Stewart proves that the tradition of the Jester is still alive and well.

steves said...

I have never been a huge fan of Stewart. I didn't dislike him. I just thought he wasn't as good as people said and it really isn't that hard to make fun of politicans, pundits, and major news stories. They are easy targets. I watched the first clip of the Stewart/Cramer War and thought he made some good points, but over simplified the whole mess.

I finally decided that if I was going to be critical of Stewart I should watch more than a clip from his show. I Tivo'd the 1/2 hour interview with Cramer and would have to say it was one of the best interviews I have seen in a long time. Stewart obviously did his homework, so I don't think think it fair to keep calling him a comedian.

that Republican deregulation allowed much of this to occur, with Democratic complicity, btw.

I htink it is more than just Democratic complicity. They are in bed with just as many of the greedy bastards as the Republicans are. Blogger friend Mike, over at Mike's Neighberhood does a great job of breaking down the crisis and some of the factors that have pushed the market down, including people that Obama has put in charge. Until we demand better, Washinton will keep putting industry insiders in charge of regulation. Whoose interests do you think they represent? Mike's posts are worth it.

The other thing that stood out was how ill-prepared Cramer seemed. I know it was Stewart's show, but he destroyed Cramer. There were a few points where Cramer could given some kind of defense, but just looked like a deer caught in the headlights.

Streak said...

Actually, I think it is a lot harder to make fun of politicians and pundits in a clever way than you suggest. Just mock? No, that is easy, but Stewart has done this kind of work for years, and done so with a keen and intelligent eye.

But you are right, he did his homework. Several of my blogs have noted that he didn't do the work of a journalist, but the work of a serious media critic--unlike those who are supposed to watch the media, Stewart and Colbert have proven to be one of the few out there who really do. I have often said that he is often more annoyed with media lapses than stupid politicians. But he is still a comedian, and there is nothing wrong with that. As Leighton (and SOF said the same thing last night, btw) noted, he is in the tradition of the court jester, and damn good at it.

As for the cause of this economic crap, I have to say that I still believe that this is, at heart, the fault of conservative thinking. Almost every Republican in congress has held to the ideas of deregulation and tax cuts, and unfortunately, far too many Democrats have bought into it. I don't doubt that Democrats have helped this along, but the root cause is a fundamental conservative approach to government that believes that corporate interests are the same as those of us at the bottom.

steves said...

I agree that Stewart has a real talent for what he does. I still don't see the appeal in Colbert, but maybe that is just me. The court jester comparison is a good one. I will have to remember that.

The more I read on the economic mess and try to wade through the partisan accusation, the more I disagree with your idea that the root is in a conservative outlook on the economy. While deregulation is impossible to ignore, I just see example of example of situations where the gov't declined to prosecute someone when they had the laws and regulation in place. As Mike referenced on his blog, the amount of money going to both parties from the financial sector is obscene and it is clear they are getting a good return for their investment.

This point is very damning:

For those interested in some understanding as to why a seemingly decent fella like Obama is continuing to oversee the looting of the treasury that began under straight-out criminals like Bush, Cheney, and Paulson (with the help of full-time hacks & lackeys like Barney Frank, Nancy Pelosi, and Chuck Schumer), Jesse quotes from Robert Weissman:
The entire financial sector (finance, insurance, real estate) drowned political candidates in campaign contributions, spending more than $1.7 billion in federal elections from 1998-2008

* * *
During the decade-long period:

* Commercial banks spent more than $154 million on campaign contributions, while investing $383 million in officially registered lobbying;

* Accounting firms spent $81 million on campaign contributions and $122 million on lobbying;

* Insurance companies donated more than $220 million and spent more than $1.1 billion on lobbying; and

* Securities firms invested more than $512 million in campaign contributions, and an additional nearly $600 million in lobbying. Hedge funds, a subcategory of the securities industry, spent $34 million on campaign contributions (about half in the 2008 election cycle); and $20 million on lobbying. Private equity firms, also a subcategory of the securities industry, contributed $58 million to federal candidates and spent $43 million on lobbying.

* * *
A great many of those lobbyists entered and exited through the revolving door connecting the lobbying world with government. Surveying only 20 leading firms in the financial sector (none from the insurance industry or real estate), we found that 142 industry lobbyists during the period 1998-2008 had formerly worked as "covered officials" in the government. "Covered officials" are top officials in the executive branch (most political appointees, from members of the cabinet to directors of bureaus embedded in agencies), Members of Congress, and congressional staff.

Nothing evidences the revolving door -- or Wall Street's direct influence over policymaking -- more than the stream of Goldman Sachs expatriates who left the Wall Street goliath, spun through the revolving door, and emerged to hold top regulatory positions. Topping the list, of course, are former Treasury Secretaries Robert Rubin and Henry Paulson, both of whom had served as chair of Goldman Sachs before entering government. Goldman continues to be well represented in government, with among others, Gary Gensler, President Obama's pick to chair the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, and Mark Patterson, a former Goldman lobbyist now serving as chief of staff to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.

All of this awesome influence buying has enabled Wall Street to establish the framework for debates in Washington, and to obtain very specific deregulatory actions, with devastating consequences.
As Jesse also added:
The problem continues . . . . The carriers of the infection are still at work. The system is distorted, sick, incapable of self-cure. Feeding intravenous liquidity to obtain the appearance of health will not work, only allow the disease to progress. Strong medicine is required. We will have no recovery until we have reform. We will have no reform until the banks are restrained, and balance is restored. The looting of the public Treasury will continue while the Congress and the Executive take their direction from Wall Street.
The problem is frighteningly simple, though the solutions will be very difficult, both in terms of implementation as well as commitment. In a nation where moneyed interests can influence politicians, those with the most money will have the greatest influence. And we're seeing that right now. A series of outrageous policies, all of them financed by the American people to bail out a microscopic sliver at the very top of the demographic pyramid, carried out daily without any concern for the opinion of the population.

We're no longer dominated by the military-industrial complex, but by the Financial Complex. And just as (relatively) recent history has shown that a grassroots movement can eventually end unpopular wars, or remove especially loathsome political regimes from power, we have to educate ourselves as to what's happening. We have to understand and admit what's happening.

And then keep making noise. A lot of it. If this issue continues to catch fire at the rate it has lately, Obama is gonna fire Geithner and maybe Summers too. If we really stay loud, maybe Bernanke goes too. And if that goes down, I suspect Obama will replace them with adults. Volcker and others of his quality and responsibility if we're really lucky.

At bottom, all the elected officials know that if & when the American people finally get wise and get angry, no amount of lobbyist money will buy the votes to prevent them from getting tossed out on their asses. Think '32. '80. '94. '06 and '08. We all need to get wise and stay loud.

There's nothing else to do.


Even a sleezball like Madoff was trying to buy influence as recently as September of last year with a $25,000 donation to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Cmte.

I am not trying to excuse Republicans, nor am I trying to say this is the Democrats fault. I am saying that this problem has been greatly exacerbated by significant actions of people in both parties and to say otherwise doesn't seem realistic.

Streak said...

Steve, I understand your point, and understand why you felt the need to cut and paste, but I really don't like that in my comments. It isn't a big deal, but we had the link, and can follow along.

Second, I am confused. I thought campaign contributions were "free speech?" That is all I have heard from Republicans. Add to that the further corporatization of our media, with the belief that the market dictates all--and I fail to see how my point is somehow refuted. Deregulate big business, refuse to address campaign finance, and then act surprised that corporations commit fraud and corruption--and that the deregulated media that is driven more by corporate greed than any kind of public interest will do nothing about it.

steves said...

Sorry, my previous link was to his blog and not to the specific post. I was going to paraphrase what he wrote, but was just too lazy. I'll avoid them in the future.

I am not for regulating speech or campaign contributions, as long as they are done out in the open. My point was that there are hundreds of laws and regulations on the books, but they are near useless if the President appoints former Goldman Sachs bigwigs to oversee the regulatory agencies. This would seem to be a conflict of interest.

You make plenty of valid points, but at the heart of this problem is an inabilty of our government to go after the people that are fleecing us and a lack of motivation...probably due to all the money that is flowing from the financial sector to the coffers of our elected officials.

Personally, I wish people would get more educated on how the economy works and demand more accountability from the gov't. Can you point to any specific laws and regulations that don't exist right now that would be beneficial to our current situation?

Streak said...

Yeah, not a big deal, just a pet peeve of mine. I think Mike makes some good points.

I think I was responding to your suggestion that Madoff was "trying to buy influence" just last year. That is what large campaign donations are--all of them. That is what confuses me. Clearly, Madoff is a crook, but as Mike points out, a big problem is the amount of money in the system, and the amount required for reelection. Perhaps one way to address this corruption is to try and get some of the money out of the system. I have never understood how that has been perceived as a pure free speech issue.

Likewise, I certainly understand the point about former Goldmen execs being appointed to regulatory agencies. That doesn't mean they will do a bad job, but it certainly smacks of--well, what Bush did for every regulatory agency. Mine execs to oversee mine safety, etc.

Can you point to any specific laws and regulations that don't exist right now that would be beneficial to our current situation?

Absolutely. For one thing, over the last 20 years, Republicans have gutted inspectors into our food safety system to the point that the Federal Government, at least as I understand it, cannot force a recall of tainted meat. They can only suggest it. But you were probably talking about the financial sector. Well, we know that the mortgage industry was largely unregulated in the last 10 years. Individual banks were regulated, but those mortgage brokers who helped push this housing market to the brink were largely unregulated. There was also very little regulation that I saw that would have stopped companies like Merril Lynch and others from packaging these bad loans into these weird security packages and then reselling them. I also know that states tried to rein in some of the so-called predatory lending (sub-prime, interest only, etc) and the Bush people quelled that.

Anonymous said...

While I enjoy watching Cramer every night, one must remember the show is primarily entertainment. The financial networks exist to promote their advertisers financial and investment products. Who would expect them to warn about the credit bubble or coming Washington national debt collapse which will destroy much of the remaining private wealth in America today or what this will do to the dollar, the stock market, bonds, gold or the real estate market?


China is now worried about their dangerous over investment in US Treasury obligations. Washington ’s long-term choice is either repudiation or monetization. For monetization to be effective, the depreciation in the dollar would have to be substantial and this in turn would dramatically raise prices of imports for American consumers which would mean a tremendous drop in foreign imports. Debt monetization would cause more disruption to exporting nations than selective repudiation of Treasury debt.

The Campaign to Cancel the Washington National Debt By 12/22/2013 Constitutional Amendment is starting now in the U.S. See: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=67594690498&ref=ts

Thanks,

Ron with 30 plus years in the investment business and banking industry.

leighton said...

Yay, a PR flak pretending to be Ron Holland! Definitely a cut above our usual category of troll.

steves said...

Well, we know that the mortgage industry was largely unregulated in the last 10 years.

I don't see it as being unregulated, though I am certainly not an expert in that field. I did take real estate law which covered some aspects of lending and we also refinanced our mortgage around 7 or 8 years ago. There were all sorts of laws and regulations in place, including truth in lending and other similar provisions.

The gov't has influence in all levels of the mortgage industry, including through the Federal Reserve, the FHA, the Department of Housing and Urban Affairs, and numerous state agencies. I read somewhere that if you want to be a nationwide mortgage broker, expect to pay around $200,000 and spend 2 years taking tests and filling out forms.

I also know that states tried to rein in some of the so-called predatory lending (sub-prime, interest only, etc) and the Bush people quelled that.

Barney Frank certainly helped some of the bed lenders. I doubt the problem is not enough regulation, but that the regulation is ineffective and ineffecient. I am certainly not going to suggest that the market correct themselves, but I would like to see better regulation, combined with a better informed populace. Mike pointed out how better informed Europeans were on their banking system. I don't think Europeans, as a whole, are any smarter than we are. I just think they make more of an effort in that area. I am hoping, with the right exposure and pressure, that Obama will can Geithner and, as others have said, appoint a grownup that will go after the people that have screwed us over.

For one thing, over the last 20 years, Republicans have gutted inspectors into our food safety system to the point that the Federal Government, at least as I understand it, cannot force a recall of tainted meat.

Yeah, there is no excuse for this, but it seems to be more of a funding issue. Again, I am not saying it is ok.

Perhaps one way to address this corruption is to try and get some of the money out of the system. I have never understood how that has been perceived as a pure free speech issue.

I suppose it isn't a pure free speech issue, but people should be able to give as much as they want to a particular candidate. How would you limit the money? I think we would just get more groups running supposedly non-partisan, non-endorsed ads.

ubub said...

The fact that Cramer and other CNBC programs and personalities are primarily for entertainment is perfectly transparent. The purposes of these programs should be clear from the network's description of itself, which is described on the CNBC website as
"Stock Market News, Business News, Financial, Earnings, World Market News and Information."

See how entertaining that was? I'm still giddy that was so much fun.

Streak said...

Yeah, the entertainment value of Cramer, et al, is really not the point. And actually, as I believe Anglican noted, Stewart has pointed out broad institutional failures by our 4th estate in addressing war, and the Bush administration. This is not just about Jim Cramer.

Yeah, there is no excuse for this, but it seems to be more of a funding issue. Again, I am not saying it is ok.

I don't think inspectors were cut for funding issues. They were cut for fundamental philosophical reasons. Republicans believe that government is evil, remember, or at least those running the show now do.

I suppose it isn't a pure free speech issue, but people should be able to give as much as they want to a particular candidate. How would you limit the money? I think we would just get more groups running supposedly non-partisan, non-endorsed ads.

Maybe we approach it from the other angle, and simply take accepting money out of the equation. If our politicians don't have to spend half (or more) of their time raising money, maybe they could focus on addressing real issues.

But why do you say that Madoff was trying to buy influence, but then say that any individual should be able to give as much as they want?

steves said...

But why do you say that Madoff was trying to buy influence, but then say that any individual should be able to give as much as they want?

I think it is one of the prices we pay to live in a free society. Banning certain contributions just seems to be a dubious solution. For every slimeball like Madoff, there is another individual or group like the American Counseling Association that donates money to a candidate that supports improved coverage of mental illnesses.

If the press does their job, then these contributions will be out in the open. I read where some politicians that received money from Madoff have given it to charity.

Streak said...

No, my point was why is it "buying influence" in Madoff's case, but a legitimate campaign contribution in another?