Why Jon Stewart is today’s Walter Cronkite

Walter Cronkite was known for years as the most trusted man on TV (or America – depending on who you listened to). Watching Jon Stewart’s evisceration of first the entire “financial TV news” farce and Jim Cramer on last night’s The Daily Show is the latest and best example of why Stewart now has the title.

He did what I’ve seen far too few American broadcast journalists do – he was willing to be difficult and uncomfortable. (It’s not just TV that’s guilty of this – NPR had a series of interviews with car company CEOs earlier this year that was awe inspiring for its refusal to ask aggressive questions.) Watch BBC World News America or listen to BBC radio news to hear journalists who clearly are not concerned with whether the person being interviewed or the audience likes him or her. Then try to watch Anderson Cooper et al.

Stewart did what every real reporter does – he had the facts at hand and when the subject prevaricated he hit them with them. He continually cuts to clips of Cramer explaining how he used all the tricks and tactics that he said he didn’t know other traders and companies used. This is what Ted Koppel and Nightline was all about.

While the entire episode deserves an award – a special Pulitzer citation? – of particular note is this quote:

“These guys 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 fucking house down and walked away rich as hell and you guys knew that was going on.”

Cramer’s attempt at a defense (and kudos to Cramer for being willing to go on the show and face the music – his TV career is now over) was this:

We’re not always told the truth. Most importantly the market was going up for a really long time and our real sin was to continue to believe it could continue to go up in the face of what you described – a lot of borrowing, a lot of shenanigans. … I’m not Edward R. Murrow. I’m a guy trying to do an entertainment show about business.

In short, Cramer never recovered from one of the first things Stewart said to him: “I understand you want to make finance entertaining but it’s not a fucking game.”

Stewart is the most trusted man in America because HE DOESN’T PRETEND TO BE OTHER THAN WHAT HE IS. The show is flat out honest about the fact that they’re just trying to get some laughs. Jim Cramer and the rest of the CNBC/MSNBC/Fox Business hacks aren’t honest. As Stewart himself asks: “How is that different from an infomercial?”

Now if Stewart or someone else will just take down these asinine partisan political chattering shows. From Rachel Maddows to O’Reilly – they all need to realize that it’s not a fucking game.

BTW, kudos to Richard Laermer for his spot on live twitter (@laermer) commentary of what happened on the show.

Covering O’Biden or McCan’t conventions a giant waste of media money

The political conventions are perfectly timed this year, serving as a perfect antidote to the just finished Munich Beijing Potemkin Olympics. Whatever their many moral faults, the Olympics weren’t boring.

This year I became entranced with field hockey. That was fun to watch. Not as much fun as Usian Bolt, but nothing is as much fun as watching Bolt. The fun couldn’t even be spoiled by the commentator kvelling about how if Bolt had just really focused when he won the first two gold medals he really could have done something. A) He won the damn races going away, so shut up. B) He showed plain old fashioned joy while doing it, so shut up.

The only thing that could have made these games better would have been if NBC had dedicated one channel to a constant live feed of the complete lack of activity in the officially sanctioned protest sites. Oh wait. One other thing could have made this better… any sign of moral cojones on the part of the athletes. Dudes & Dudettes this is the 40th anniversary of Tommie Smith & John Carlos simply raising their fists in salute during the Mexico City games. Yeah, they had to put up with a feces storm the likes of which I can’t imagine. But they never had to wonder about their own integrity. I wish one medal winner had had the courage to receive his or her award with a piece of tape over his or her mouth. That’s all it would have taken. It’s not like you were being asked to stand unnarmed in front of a tank. My self-righteousness is unjustifiable. I participated too. I watched the damn things.  I wasn’t even willing to sacrifice changing the channel, who the hell am I to ask others to do anything?

But I digress …

Now our dusk to dawn interlude of strange and interesting sports and moral peregrinations is about to give away to O’Biden vs. McCan’t. At a time when the press is bleeding money it is impossible for me to understand the amount of money that is spent covering two events with practically no news value whatsoever. I have been told there will be some 4,000 15,000 (thanks Tim!) members of the media covering each convention. 4K people spend a week hoping one person — any person — makes a mistake by straying from the script.

It would be tougher — and more interesting — to cover a house fire. (Actually I’ve never covered a pre-scripted event, so maybe they are tougher than they look. I have covered fires. I know those are tough.)

And just a note to the O’Biden team — WHO THE HELL DOES A MAJOR NEWS RELEASE ON A SATURDAY IN AUGUST? Any bump from the announcement is dead by the time Monday rolls around and people start paying attention again. It almost looks like you didn’t want the pick of The Human Wind Tunnell to get much play.

Suffice to say, we will all be well and fully informed watching whatever snippets The Daily Show and Colbert Report decide to run.

Just as idiotic as the resources spent on covering the conventions is the importance given to them. It will be banner headlines everywhere when Obama gets the official nod but I have no idea why. I always thought news was supposed to contain … well … news. It would be amazing if anything that happens at either confab rises to a level that justifies putting them above the fold on the front page. (Note: This is jargon from back in the time when dead trees were kings of the media world. Above the fold means the news is important enough to be on that prime piece of real estate first seen by the consumer. Below the fold means it is important but still on the bottom of page one and therefore on the side of a folded paper away from the consumer. Anyone wishing to learn more useless newspeak from back when mastodons roamed the media should email me. -30-)

The Red Sox or, when your brand changes underneath you

“You can’t be lovable if you’re not losers!” — Jon Stewart on the Red Sox, 10/29/07

That is exactly what is going on with Red Sox Nation. The brand identity until three years ago was The Cursed Ones. For a while after that we were The Redeemed Ones (until The White Sox took that mantle). Now, we are The Successful Ones. The first two had significant qualities that really differentiated the brand from everyone else. They also inspired huge amounts of loyalty among consumers.

As the (hated) Yankees can attest success also inspires huge amounts of loyalty, but it’s taking some getting used to here in the Nation. It’s not a bad thing to get used to — but it is different.

sox ballBefore this year, wearing the Red Sox logo generally got you a certain amount of sympathy and even respect in ballparks outside of New York. Other fans recognized you as someone devoted to the sport. Someone who stuck to your team no matter what and — let’s be honest — someone who rooted for a team that always made the other teams look better. It’s easy to sympathize with fans of a team like that — they’re not a threat. This explains why people outside of St. Louis are so fond of Cubs fans. (Outside of the Midwest, most people don’t realize the antipathy between the Cards and the Cubs. A friend once said that a game between those two teams would sell out even if it was held on Christmas Day during a blizzard. That sums it up.)

Now Sox fans — and their seem to be a lot of them everywhere — are going to have to get used to being reviled. So far the team hasn’t employed any True Villains in the sports marketing sense. Sure Schilling is a blowhard, but he blows just as hard against his own team as he does the opposition.

Stephen (Smarter Than Me) Baker, puts it well:

Hey Red Sox fans. Many of us used to love your team. And now that they’re fabulous, they’re a lot less fun. You may find that it’s lonely at the top. I never thought I’d say this, but I may end up pulling next year for those underdog Yankees.

The real problem will be not the team, but the fans. All this winning is stripping Sox fans of the shreds of humility that used to makes us so much easier to tolerate. We are in danger of collectively turning into what New Hampshire residents like to call Massholes.

Oh, how quickly we forget our four score decades of wandering in the wilderness. Well, if that’s the price of success all I can say is WAIT TILL THIS YEAR!

(BTW: Someone pointed out that the Red Sox didn’t become known as the Red Sox until 1908. Last time the Cubs won a World Series? 1908. Coincidence? I think not. So therefor the Cubs won’t win a Series again until the Sox change their name back to the Americans. While the logic is spurious, consider that I have 99 years of evidence to support it.)

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