John Stewart and his Daily Show staff once again taught the news media how it is done. Tonight’s lesson, how to host a show and not let the guest off the hook. The comedian did a smart and hard-hitting interview with CNBC’s popular and bombastic host, Jim Cramer. The “Stewart – Cramer” war of words has been all over the Internet this week. So Cramer’s appearance, no doubt attracted a big audience. But if Cramer thought he could come on to the Daily Show to simply kiss and make up or even play a contrite victim of lying CEO’s, he was dead wrong. Stewart was prepared for the defense. He was ready with tough follow up questions and evidence via videotape.
The difference between Stewart’s grilling of Cramer and the typical TV news Gotcha interview or a visit to an alleged “no spin zone” is that Stewart was not smug, he wasn’t posing and he didn’t care how uncomfortable the conversation got (for Cramer or himself). He did not play the warm host that asks one tough question then accepts whatever answer the guest offers so they can move on. Stewart’s demonstration was an example of what, he believes, was missing from CNBC’s coverage of the bull market and the shenanigans that led to the meltdown of the financial system.
Stewart’s main criticism of the network and of Cramer’s show Mad Money is the gap between what CNBC advertises itself as and what it is. To make his point he played an old Internet video where a sober Cramer talked about some of the ways that experienced hedge fund managers play the system. Stewart said, “I want the Jim Cramer on CNBC to protect me from that Jim Cramer.” When the Mad Money host started pointing fingers at financial bosses who lied to him and at the lack of regulatory oversight, Stewart asked, “Why the regulators. Why not the financial news networks.” Stewart said to Cramer. “I assume you don’t take (financial powerbrokers) word at face value.”
Stewart, whose own show blurs the line between entertainment and news, reminded Cramer that people turn to his show and network for information. “I understand you want to make finance entertaining—but it’s not a… game. “
Ratings for the show will likely be strong, and that may be the best lesson of all. A good and fair grilling can actually bring more viewers. – Mary Caraccioli