The Real Problem with CNBC

CNBC never did any exposés about the enormous risks our financial companies took because they didn't see that as their job. Jim Cramer is the least of the network's problems.
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I know that Jon Stewart and Jim Cramer have been in a bit of a "fight" lately. Of course, it's not really a fight because Stewart isn't doing this to pick a fight with Cramer or because he doesn't like him. He's making fun of him -- because that's what he does.

Stewart also makes fun of Obama from time to time (check out him ripping Obama here). Does this mean he doesn't like Obama? No, it means he's a comedian. Over the last couple of days Cramer and Joe Scarborough have been using that word as a pejorative, but that's the guy's job -- to make people laugh. They are pissed because he's good at it.

But if they think there is a kernel of truth in what Stewart is saying -- which, of course, is why they're actually angry -- they're right. Stewart also wants to make you think about what the role of the media is. And when you think about that in regard to CNBC, Jim Cramer is the least of their problems.

In fact, I don't blame Cramer at all (disclaimer: he's been on our show and I had a friendly interaction with him personally once). Everybody knows what Cramer does -- he yells and screams about his stock predictions. That's his job. You'd have to be crazy to think Cramer knows everything and that you should invest all of your money purely based on what he says. And I think he would be the first to admit that.

That's not the problem with CNBC. The real problem is their reporting -- or lack thereof. The CNBC reporters and anchors make the Bush press corps look like draconian inquisitors. They are obsessed with access. This is a problem with all of the media, and something Jon Stewart points out all the time. But it is particularly acute at CNBC (and all other business news channels).

I have a close friend who works at a business news station -- and here is the worst kept secret in show business -- it's all about the access. If you piss off the CEOs or the companies, you're going to get a call from your boss. You have jeopardized our relationship with them!

That is very thinly disguised code words for -- don't ever say anything negative about a company we cover otherwise your job is in the trouble. The message is clear -- go along to get along. This isn't journalism. It's public relations by another name.

CNBC never did any exposés about the enormous risks these financial companies took. They never exposed the insanity of the derivatives market. And they never told their audience that the executives of these companies have been robbing their shareholders blind. Because they didn't see that as their job. They saw their job as doing whatever it took to keep Wall Street happy and playing ball with them.

They were part of the broken system. There was no journalism going on at CNBC. That is what our underlying complaint is. That is what CNBC continues to miss to this day as they try to defend themselves by saying their words were taken out of context. The problem was the context!

Will they straighten ship and start doing real investigative journalism uncovering the abuses of Wall Street now that they have been called out. I doubt it. That's not how they're structured. They don't view the average guy in their audience or the American public overall as their main constituency. They view Wall Street as their constituency. So, they will continue to serve them.

I don't say this because I have some sort of axe to grind with CNBC. They didn't lose me any money (that was the upside of having no money to lose before the crash). I don't even begrudge them what they do. I get it. They do fluff pieces on Wall Street. So, if you want to know what the companies are telling the public, check out CNBC. That's also a service. Buyer beware. If you want hard hitting business journalism, look elsewhere.

I don't have a problem with that. The question is, does CNBC? If they can make their peace with that, then they should carry on. If they want to change that image, then they have to change the reality. It's up to them. I'm wildly indifferent either way (as long as they don't pretend to be something they're not). It depends on what they think their role is. And that's for them to decide.

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