Stewart vs. Cramer: A One-Sided Smackdown

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 13, 2009; 9:57 AM

Jon Stewart wasn't trying to be funny.

Jim Cramer wasn't trying to be obnoxious.

The result was riveting, if not particularly hilarious, television, with Stewart dominating all the way.

In their much-anticipated, much-ballyhooed faceoff on last night's "Daily Show," Stewart became "Crossfire Jon," the avenging media critic, demanding to know why CNBC failed so badly in warning us, the investing public, of the looming meltdown. He was mad and loaded for Bear Stearns.

"CNBC could be an incredibly powerful tool of illumination," Stewart declared, but instead was selling "snake oil." (So was he, said Jon, but he wasn't promising to make people money.)

The odd thing was that Cramer, a confident ex-trader who bows to no one in the bombast department, barely defended himself or his network. He said he'd made mistakes. He said he wished he'd done a better job. He pointed out that CNBC has some good reporters but never really made the case for how they've reported aggressively on Wall Street.

"I am trying to expose this stuff. . . . We could do better. There are shenanigans and we should call them out."

Cramer was playing rope-a-dope while Stewart swung away. Jim seemed more concerned with being liked than justifying what he does for a living. It was a mismatch.

Stewart got him on the defensive by playing a 2006 tape in which Cramer explained how traders gamed the system and seemed to say he had used such techniques in his Wall Street days.

Cramer maintained that he himself had been the victim of deception. "I had a lot of CEOs lie to me on the show. It was very painful," he said.

"You're pretending you're a dew-eyed innocent," Stewart shot back.

Cramer said he had a Wall of Shame. He said he had called Hank Paulson a liar. He said there was a market for an entertaining business show like his.

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