After a week of build-up, last Thursday's Cramer vs. Stewart showdown turned into something of a snoozer from a comedic standpoint -- primarily because Stewart decided to get all serious and beat up on Cramer; and Cramer decided to wimp out and take it.
Maybe Cramer deserved to get upbraided, but some of the praise going to Stewart -- such as that from The Atlantic's James Fallows and Andrew Sullivan went just a bit too far. Fallows claimed that Stewart became the voice of journalism: "I thought Stewart, without excessive showboating, did the journalistic sensibility proud."
His site-mate Sullivan piled on as well:
Stewart - that little comic with the Droopy voice for Lieberman - is actually becoming an accidental activist. Why he matters, is why South Park matters. He, like Matt and Trey, do not leave aside their own profession from scrutiny: they have the actual balls to take it on. There is a cloying familiarity among many cable show hosts and television personalities. We all have to get along, even though some of us may believe that others of us are very much part of the problem, rather than the solution. And what Stewart has done is rip off that little band-aid of faux solidarity for a modicum of ethical and moral accountability.
The one problem in all this back-patting of Stewart's guts is that he actually doesn't give the same "scrutiny" to his own profession. In his smackdown of Cramer, Stewart says, "I understand that you want to make finance entertaining, but it's not a f*cking game."
The problem is that, contrary to what Fallow writes, Stewart did "engage in excessive showboating."
The man whose entire show is built on the premise that all of politics can be reduced to a serial mocking joke is telling the guy who wants to make finance entertaining that it shouldn't be a you-know-what joke? Come on! It's not as if Stewart doesn't have his biases and blind spots. He rarely devotes whole shows to the congressional Democrats who might have become compromised in the housing/credit/banking mess.
And, no, this isn't slamming Stewart because his show has a liberal edge. The point is that he wants to use humor to make serious points about political and journalistic hypocrisy. If Stewart wants to do that, great. That's his strength. But, if he wants to get on a high horse and demand that Cramer's shtick not turn an important subject like finance into a "f---ing game," then Stewart shouldn't be so clearly "rooting" for one side in the journalistic-political game.
What launched Stewart on his initial tirade against CNBC? It wasn't even Cramer -- but his network-mate Rick Santelli's attack on the Obama administration's foreclosure plan. Stewart could have gone after Cramer's blown calls on Bear Stearns at any time. But, it's only when a CNBC talking head attacks Stewart's president that he decides to put on the serious activist-populist crusading journalist hat?
If the argument is that Cramer works on a "serious" channel and he shouldn't be talking about a serious topic like finance in a facetious or "light" manner, then why isn't the reverse true? Stewart works on a "comedy" channel, but now his "analysis" of a non-serious financial commentator's entertaining act is supposed to be accepted as "serious" journalism?
Come on. We all should be smarter than that.
Robert A. George is a New York writer. He blogs at Ragged Thots.