Commentary: Cramer after Stewart

Will the 'Mad Money' host recover from the comedian's bite?

After watching Jon Stewart turn Jim Cramer into the poster boy for all that is wrong with the U.S. economy, I predicted the demise of Cramer's "Mad Money" show on CNBC.

Who could blame me? Cramer's response to withering barbs from Stewart, after all, was so creepily docile that ABC's John Stossel likened it to Stockholm syndrome. How could the famed stockpicker's credibility withstand such a high-profile attack from the nation's go-to populist comedian?

Happily, I'm wrong, at least so far. That's because "Mad Money" seems to be drawing almost the same number of viewers post-Stewart vs. Cramer as before.

On Friday, March 13, one day after Cramer did his Joaquin Phoenix impression on Comedy Central's "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart," 435,000 people watched "Mad Money," up from 412,000 the previous week, Nielsen said.

The following Monday, 464,000 watched, down from 504,000 the week before but probably not enough to arouse the concern of CNBC brass. "Mad Money" also was down for two of the next three days.

So it's unclear whether Cramer has suffered much lasting damage from being bullied so publicly by Stewart. If he has, that's too bad, given how disingenuous Stewart was during his Cramer smackdown.

Many already have dismissed Stewart's rants on Cramer -- and all of CNBC -- as partisan showmanship, the proof being the comedian paid scant attention to the business-news channel until Cramer, Rick Santelli and other CNBC talent began criticizing President Obama.

Stewart is protective of Obama, and he needed a boogeyman now that George W. Bush no longer is in the White House. So he unleashed first on CNBC and then on Cramer, who, once upon a time, had the temerity to fight back.

Many have backhandedly defended Cramer by pointing out he is for entertainment purposes only. That's patronizing because CNBC can hire anyone to bang a gong, throw a chair and bite the heads off toy bulls and bears.

They chose Cramer because he does those things with authority.

Cramer, after all, made a fortune buying and selling stocks, so it's not unheard of for savvy investors to take Cramer's advice and profit from it. In October, when the Dow was at 10,000, he told viewers to go to cash for the next five years. How gutsy and prescient was that call?

Stewart, however, only seems to care about the bad calls, though he can take any investor in the world -- even Warren Buffett -- and get a Pavlovian chuckle out of his audience by highlighting their worst stock picks.

But Stewart's most bizarre charge -- considering the source -- is that Cramer doesn't take himself seriously enough.

"I understand you want to make finance interesting," Stewart told Cramer during the March 12 interview. "But it's not a f***ing game!"

The line got applause, though Stewart knows he's guilty of exactly what he chastised Cramer for: treating serious news like a game. So he also told Cramer, "We're both snake-oil salesmen to a certain extent, but we label the show as snake oil here."

Really? A scientific poll from the Pew Research Center in 2007 found that Stewart is one of the most admired journalists in America, equal to Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw, Brian Williams and Anderson Cooper and ahead of Jim Lehrer, Bob Woodruff, Peter Jennings, Barbara Walters and Wolf Blitzer.

If Stewart is selling snake oil instead of actual news -- albeit amusingly packaged with his own commentary -- perhaps he should make that disclaimer more prominent so his audience will stop confusing him with an "admired journalist."

Until he does, his critique of Cramer, Santelli and CNBC remains laughable.
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