Mad Money Falls Victim to Meta-Journalism…or just Jon Stewart?

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Last week the Seattle Post-Intelligencer became, after recording more than $14 million in loses last year, the first newspaper in the US to move completely online. It’s an unsettling clear sign that newspapers are fighting a losing battle. At this point, it doesn’t seem too cynical to say that this will probably be the unfortunate future of newspapers, quarantined to the web, where they will be less prominent than they ever were. Newspaper loyalists, like myself, have gotten used to seeing reports like this. While the first reports of RIFs at the New York Times warranted much hand-wringing, articles about defunct publications gets little more than a resigned sigh.

 With print journalism going through these awkward changes broadcast news should fill its place. As I pointed out in my last post, it doesn’t appear that all programs are up for the task. Hosts like Glenn Beck and Bill O’Reilly have gotten better ratings recently from saying and doing ridiculous things. Beck for instance has started a new segment called the 912 Project where he aims to “bring us all back to the place we were on September 12, 2001.” Ah yes, bring us back to the day we were all scared out of our minds and didn’t want to get out of bed. 

It’s not just these conservative hosts. Anderson Cooper, Chris Matthews, and Campbell Brown all fall victim to the celebrity factor of broadcast journalism. There needs to be a way for the news on TV to be reigned in. I think that it’s in meta-journalism. The recent Jim Cramer and Jon Stewart showdown has been a far cry from what journalism should be, but a brief glimpse of what it needs.

Earlier this month, Stewart made a more than a few harsh criticisms of CNBC for telling investors and audiences to buy stock right up until the Bear Sterns and Lehman Brothers crashed. CNBC, like CNN and Fox News, has gotten great ratings from having Jim Cramer and Rick Santelli say outrageous things. Cramer’s show Mad Money, feature Cramer analyzing stocks and then hitting buttons with loud sound effects. In one episode Stewart showed a video that systematically showed how poorly Cramer’s judgment had been right before the crisis, and how he was perhaps responsible for normal people losing thousands of dollars.

This led to Cramer defending himself on the Today show and eventually to an eight-minute interview with Stewart on The Daily Show. Stewart’s relentless, as he showed clips of Cramer from a 2006 interview where he talks about his dubious actions as a hedge fund manager. “A lot of times when I was short I would create a level of activity beforehand that would drive the futures.” He also explained the value in spreading rumors about stock, an activity that got him a subpoena in 2006. His unethical journalism and possibly illegal actions, made stock market into, as Stewart asserts, a “game.”

Stewart’s interviews with Cramer have been the most recent and popular example of meta-journalism. It’s not the first time he’s done it either. He famously admonished Tucker Carlson and Paul Begala for producing theatre instead of useful political debate, and recently criticized Bill O’Reilly for being hypocritical. Furthermore, Stewart is also the executive producer of The Colbert Report, a satirical show that pokes fun at programs like the O’Reilly Factor.

            What I find problematic about Stewart however is the same thing that befalls most other liberal television anchors. Maybe it’s the celebrity status that comes with having a show, or the rising popularity of news programs, but Stewart comes off as a bit self-righteous. In the Cramer interview, he barely let Cramer speak for himself, but rather called out clips to be shown like a prosecutor. This type of interviewing is fodder for conservative hosts who will gladly call this method elitism.

Meta-journalism can’t be sensationalist like the Cramer-Stewart interviews. In doing so, it does more harm than good, by appearing to be objective while actually being hypocritical. For the moment, the two biggest meta-journalist watchdogs are Colbert and Stewart. In the end of the Cramer interview Stewart asked that CNBC “start getting back to fundamentals on reporting” so that he could “go back to making fart noises and funny faces.” Meta-journalism clearly has a long way to go.

 

 

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