CNBC Apologist Mike Hegedus Gets it Wrong on HuffPo

It was bound to happen sooner or later. Some CNBC apologist would try to defend the network against Jon Stewart and get it all wrong. It turns out that person is Mike Hegedus on Huffington Post today. Hegedus is a former CNBC correspondent, known for features about such topics as pink Jeeps and Gluten-free cookies.

Let’s start from the beginning.

Jon Stewart began calling out CNBC after Rick Santelli called average people being hurt by the financial crisis “losers.”

Jim Cramer was one of the CNBC personalities that Stewart called out on the show. It started to become a Cramer/Stewart rivalry when Cramer went on a whirlwind media tour defending himself, with the help of Joe “Doucheborough.”

The conflict culminated with Cramer’s appearance last night on The Daily Show, where Stewart by most accounts devastated him as Cramer whimpered at the desk.

Which now brings us to Mike Hegedus’ column today in the Huffington Post, entitled “Jon, You’re Wrong. It is a Game, and You’re a Player!”

Now, Hegedus’ article isn’t entirely off-base, but his characterization of Jon Stewart, the impact on CNBC, and his defense of CNBC are.

Where they go wrong is when they both actually believe their own publicity. Verbal helium is a dangerous thing. Stewart is a comic turned the ‘white knight’ of journalism, holding the feet of hemming and hawing politicos to The Daily Show fire. Pointing out their foibles, keeping an eye on the world for the rest us. A voice of eternal reason, the Diogenes of his generation.

Cramer on the other hand is a stock picking “guru.” In his veins beats the pulse of the Street. He’s been there, done that, become a rich man by using his wits to stay ahead of the curve, and he, just like Stewart, is there to make sure that we, the unwashed, don’t get taken,

Too late. We’ve been taken by the both of them, and of course it’s our own fault.

Do you want to know why people see Jon Stewart as the “white knight of journalism?” Because the journalists for the most part aren’t doing journalism. Jon Stewart is a guy who started a comedy news show who began calling out a lot of people in the mainstream media because he was frustrated that they weren’t doing their jobs. He doesn’t want to be a journalist, and he highlights how sad it is that he has to be seen as one. He flat out admits he runs a comedy show, that it isn’t going to be fair, and that’s what it is. He is on Comedy Central, not CNN, CNBC, or any other “news” organization. Stewart did not want to become Edward R. Murrow, despite the fact that he has done so brilliantly.

[Cramer] did not make his millions by watching or appearing on TV. He made it by working way too hard and long in the pits of the financial world — learning, studying, losing and winning. It cost him a lot (his hair and at times his health). What he is now is an entertainer, someone who can make an otherwise marginally interesting subject at least watchable. As luck would have it he’s also become popular, or as popular as someone on CNBC can be. And there in lies the problem. “Popular” is not something ordinarily associated with a business channel, and once CNBC, which had wandered in the desert of marginal cable stations for way too long, got a long drink of popularity thanks to Cramer, well, before you know it Jim is being rolled out as a ‘”expert” on Today, Nightly and anything else NBC owns.

Wait a second. Hegedus starts the paragraph essentially laying out why Jim Cramer would be an expert on the financial system, but says that the problem is that Cramer became popular and so was rolled out as an “expert.” Despite the contradiction, this is making Jon Stewart’s point, illustrated by the promo for Cramer’s show, Mad Money, with the tagline “In Cramer We Trust.”

[Stewart]’s right, the economic issues we all face are not a game, but his show is. And they both played it. Cramer and CNBC have never had this much publicity. And while they both come out of it with a slight odor, little is likely to change. There’s nothing like the stink of notoriety. And the same goes for Stewart — how many more folks watched his show because he had Cramer on? How much more polished is his white knight “armour” now that he’s “slain” the evil Booyah? You think that was part of the plan?

Hegedus has apparently forgotten what happened with CNN’s Crossfire after a similar situation with Stewart. All publicity is good publicity doesn’t apply to a lot of people, especially politicians, experts, and journalists. The CNBC brand has taken a pretty big hit, and trust is at a low. It’s true that this probably boosted Stewart, especially since the American public has been hungry for someone, anyone, to do what Stewart did. The sad thing, and Stewart admits this, is that it had to happen on a comedy show.

The unfortunate piece of this is that Jim Cramer isn’t all of CNBC. Whatever aroma is attached to him will seep now onto the other hard working folks at the network who get up early and stay late to report on the actual financial happenings of the day. The fact that they don’t have the resources available to them to uncover the shenanigans that Stewart keeps harping about is not their fault. It’s a problem faced by all of journalism and something to be discussed at length at some other time.

Has Mike Hegedus even been paying attention to this whole thing? Jon Stewart attacked CNBC as a whole, Cramer just happened to be the one that engaged back. This wasn’t a Stewart/Cramer feud, this was an excoriation of a network that advertises itself as something that it is not and seems to be more in line with the CEOs and day traders than with the average Americans who are looking for advice on their financial security.

And stop with this “we don’t have enough resources” crap. This is an existential question about what CNBC is and what it is supposed to be. Here is Stewart on the subject:

It’s very easy to get on this after the fact. The measure of the network, and the measure of mess. CNBC could act as—No one is asking them to be a regulatory agency, but can’t—but whose side are they on? It feels like they have to reconcile as their audience the Wall Street traders that are doing this for constant profit on a day-to-day for short term. These guys companies were on a Sherman’s March through their companies financed by our 401ks and all the incentives of their companies were for short term profit. And they burned the f—ing house down with our money and walked away rich as hell and you guys knew that that was going on.

This is a question about CNBC actually doing financial reporting and the resources argument is just an excuse. When a CEO makes a statement to a CNBC reporter they should check to see if they are telling the truth, not just trusting them at the word and sounding hurt and astounded when it turns out they lied. When you have a network of ‘experts’ on finance that were aware of the practices that led to our current economic situation, didn’t they have the responsibility to report that? They argue that they thought the market was going to grow forever. First, it never has and never will. Second, how about the network just reports on what is happening and let the viewer make their own decision about it. That is the problem with the financial networks. There is a level of information asymmetry between correspondent and viewer, yet instead of giving the viewers the source information, they just analyze and make predictions based on their interpretations of that information and ask us to trust them.

And Jon Stewart is not a journalist. He’s a civically engaged entertainer, who apparently as frustrated as the rest of us with the economy went looking for someone to hammer. My suggestion Jon is next time find a bigger nail.

There are two things wrong with this closing statement. First, Stewart took on the entire business news industry. That is a pretty damn big nail that nobody has even attempted to take their hammer to. Second, it isn’t Jon Stewart’s responsibility to find bigger nails, it is the reporters’. People came after Stewart for this in 2004 over the Crossfire situation and are doing it again now. Like Stewart says, he runs a comedy show. If ‘real’ journalists would start doing their damn jobs and hammer some nails of their own without whining about there not being enough Home Depots nearby, Stewart wouldn’t have to do it all by himself. He shouldn’t have to do it at all.

I want to end with a few paragraphs from Andrew Sullivan’s take, which has been my favorite so far:

I watched the Daily Show with growing shock last night. Did you expect that? I expected a jolly and ultimately congenial discussion, after some banter. What Cramer walked into was an ambush of anger. He crumbled from the beginning. From then on, with the almost cruel broadcasting of his earlier glorifying of financial high-jinks, you almost had to look away. This was, in my view, a real cultural moment. It was a storming of the Bastille. It was, as Fallows notes, journalism.

Now, I know Jim Cramer a little. The reason he crumbled last night, I think, is because deep down, he knows Stewart’s right. He isn’t that television clown all the way down. And deeper down, he knows it’s not all a game – not now they’ve run off with grandpa’s retirement money.

It’s not enough any more, guys, to make fantastic errors and then to carry on authoritatively as if nothing just happened. You will be called on it. In some ways, the blogosphere is to MSM punditry what Stewart is to Cramer: an insistent and vulgar demand for some responsibility, some moral and ethical accountabilty for previous decisions and pronouncements.

It’s not a game.