Page last updated at 13:55 GMT, Monday, 16 March 2009

TV clash gets White House talking

Jim Cramer on The Daily Show
Jim Cramer took some verbal blows from Jon Stewart
A fierce debate between two US television show hosts has generated so much buzz that even the White House is talking about it.

Press secretary Robert Gibbs said he had "enjoyed thoroughly" seeing The Daily Show's host Jon Stewart lambasting the business channel CNBC's Jim Cramer.

But he admitted forgetting to email President Obama to remind him to record the show.

And with copyright issues meaning that the full clash is disappearing from video-sharing sites such as YouTube, he may need to call in a favour.

'Shirked duty'

The Daily Show, produced by Comedy Central tackles political topics in a humorous way.

It makes fun of the way politicians and other public figures contradict themselves, and also lampoons the mainstream news networks' overblown style with its own team of anarchic correspondents.

Now long-time host Mr Stewart has been hailed for exposing some of the major flaws with business new coverage - especially from some cable channels.

Jon Stewart
Not everyone approved of the host's tactics

His target, Mr Cramer, won notoriety from the raucous style in which he dishes out advice to investors on his CNBC show Mad Money.

The interview by Mr Stewart followed a series of attacks on Mr Cramer on The Daily Show - including a clip of him making an upbeat prediction about Bear Stearns - just before the investment bank failed.

When there were complaints that the clip was unfair "cherry-picking", The Daily Show ran earlier previous footage of Mr Cramer singing the praises of Bear Stearns.

During the interview, Mr Stewart took the Mad Money presenter to task, accusing him of trying to turn finance reporting into a "game."

He said that CNBC had shirked its journalistic duty by believing what it was told by corporations such as banks - rather than being an "powerful tool of illumination".

"You knew what the banks were doing, and yet were touting it for months and months," Mr Stewart said.

"The entire network was. And so now to pretend that this was some sort of crazy, once-in-a-lifetime tsunami that nobody could have seen coming is disingenuous at best and criminal at worst."

If it was a prize fight they would have stopped it
Howard Kurtz
Washington Post

However Mr Cramer, a former hedge fund manager denied that firms were given an easy ride - insisting his show was devoted to uncovering corporate "shenanigans".

But he did concede that he had been "wrong" on occasions and said financial reporters "could do better" and "should do better".


Pundits overwhelmingly judged that Mr Stewart had won the debate.

"If it was a prize fight they would have stopped it," said Howard Kurtz, media writer at the Washington Post. The Huffington Post described it as "a massacre".

However there were plenty who challenged Mr Stewart's approach.

"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?," wrote Robert A George on the NBC website

"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?"

And Peter Morici, a professor at the Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland said Mr Cramer's biggest error was agreeing to debate on "Stewart's home turf."

"Jim Cramer, theatrics notwithstanding, gives us his best shot," Professor Morici added.

"If Stewart were a serious guy - if he were more concerned about serving investors than his ratings - he would track Cramer's prognostications and compare those to other pundits and services. He would do a complete analysis and tell us how Cramer stacks up."

No UK criticism

BBC business editor Robert Peston said that he did not feel UK financial journalists could be accused of being too easy on financial institutions.

"Cramer has been attacked by Jon Stewart for being too optimistic after the crisis started in the summer of 2007," he said.

"The allegation against him and CNBC is that they were taking too rose-tinted a view of what was subsequently going on at various institutions. That is simply not a criticism that I think can be levelled at most UK financial journalists.

"If Stewart tried to do that over here, I think he'd look like an idiot because I don't think there's evidence for falling down on the job in remotely the same way. I don't think it's possible to do it because the evidence isn't there of a complacent, or self-satisfied, or lazy, or unduly optimistic media."

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