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Serious Overtones to Jon Stewart's Smack Down

CNBC's Jim Cramer took the blows for others who did a poor job warning average investors about risk.
CNBC's Jim Cramer took the blows for others who did a poor job warning average investors about risk. (By Jason Decrow -- Associated Press)
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By Michelle Singletary
Thursday, March 19, 2009

I was mesmerized by the most fascinating financial program recently.

Surprisingly, it was not on one of the business cable networks. It was on Comedy Central, where Jon Stewart took down Jim Cramer, the host of CNBC's "Mad Money."

If you haven't seen the March 12 episode of "The Daily Show," you should. You can watch the full face-off on http://www.thedailyshow.com.

A small, nationwide sampling of 448 self-reported Democrats, Republicans and independents said that by a landslide (74 percent), Stewart whupped Cramer pretty good. The study was conducted on March 13 by HCD Research, a communications research company headquartered in Flemington, N.J.

Stewart lashed out at Cramer with a vengeance that was both humorous and harsh. It was like watching a Mike Tyson fight in his boxing heyday. In those bouts, Tyson was so brutal you would wince in sympathy for his opponent, even while cheering Tyson on. I winced a lot during Stewart's sparring with Cramer.

Since the showdown, much has been made of Stewart's trouncing of Cramer. While entertaining, it wasn't completely fair.

We all want to find someone to blame for the economic mudslide -- and there are plenty I want to punch -- but let's not take the focus off the real scoundrels: mortgage lenders; people who lied to get a mortgage; and executives at AIG, Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns. Although Stewart vocalized what we all have been feeling, his victim -- Cramer -- was a mere guppy in a tank of rotten fish.

"We're both snake oil salesmen to a certain extent," Stewart said to Cramer. "But we do label the show as snake oil here. Isn't there a problem selling snake oil as vitamin tonic and saying that it cures impetigo?"

Cramer's response: "I try really hard to make as many good calls as I can."

There's no question that Cramer, a former hedge fund manager, has been an unapologetic shrill for the stock market. But how could anyone watch his show on CNBC and not know this? If you were investing solely on the advice of what Cramer said, you were a fool.

Stewart played several video clips of Cramer appearing to advocate a certain type of trading to manipulate the stock market. What Stewart said after those clips had me high-fiving my husband for a good five minutes.

Investors were told, Stewart said, to "put your money in 401(k)s . . . and just leave it there," Stewart said. "Don't worry about it. It's all doing fine. Then there's this other market; this real market that's occurring in the back room, where giant piles of money are going in and out and people are trading them and it's transactional and it's fast. But it's dangerous. It's ethically dubious, and it hurts that long-term market. So what it feels like to us -- and I'm speaking purely as a layman -- it feels like we are capitalizing your adventure . . . and that it is a game that you know, that you know is going on."


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