Jon Stewart and the Business Media

Friday, March 20, 2009

We should sympathize with Richard Cohen's losing his hard-earned money investing in American International Group, but he was wrong to attack Jon Stewart ["Don't Blame Jim Cramer," op-ed, March 17].

In excusing the involvement of CNBC and the rest of the business media in promoting a bubble market, Mr. Cohen was failing to learn the lesson of this collapse.

The willingness of CNBC and other outlets to act as carnival barkers for products that neither they nor the companies selling them understood or could even value was reckless. To blame "inertia," as Mr. Cohen did, is weak.

Any financial journalist should know the history of financial bubbles and try to recognize the dangers of a mad rush for exotic, magical investment products.

That so few members of the financial media were willing to challenge the wisdom of extensive deregulation, which created a sort of Dodge City full of bankers, was bad enough. For these journalists to then lead the sales drive and encourage millions to invest in an overheating market makes them culpable.

Mr. Cohen defended both the bankers and the journalists by saying that these exotic products were too complex for anyone to understand. If this is true, it was extraordinarily reckless, a dereliction of duty, for financial operators to buy and sell instruments of unknown value and risk. As Mr. Stewart said, this is not a game. The investments, pensions and livelihoods of real people are destroyed, taxpayers are being asked to foot the bill for Wall Street's incompetence and government is expected to clean up the mess left by private industry.

The business media, including CNBC, are guilty of buffoonery at best, collusion at worst. Their work was all surface and shine. Mr. Stewart is to be commended for holding them accountable.




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