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.