Jim Cramer is the manic host of CNBC’s Mad Money, a television show that offers stock recommendations and investment advice. Jon Stewart is the host of Comedy Central’s satirical news program, The Daily Show. Cramer and Stewart engaged in a war of words recently, which came to a head last Thursday night when Cramer appeared on Stewart’s program.
Stewart’s complaint is that CNBC doesn’t offer financial news and advice so much as it acts as a cheerleader for Wall Street. CNBC sells itself as a network of financial experts, but they were as unprepared as anyone for the economic collapse. And now some CNBC personalities seem to be engaging in brazen hypocrisy, lambasting non-experts (like “loser” homeowners) for not seeing trouble coming.
“Let me tell you why I think this thing has caught some attention,” Stewart told Cramer. “It’s the gap between what CNBC advertises itself as and what it is…[You and I] are both snake-oil salesmen to a certain extent. But we do label the show as snake oil here. Isn’t there a problem selling snake oil as vitamin tonic?”
Stewart grilled Cramer for over 20 minutes on Thursday, asking him why CNBC doesn’t do more investigative reporting, doesn’t ask tough questions, doesn’t raise red flags about companies it knows are in trouble. Here’s one exchange from the unedited video:
Stewart: In what world is a 35-to-1 leveraged position sane?
Cramer: The world that made you 30% year after year after year beginning from 1999 to 2007. And it became very difficult to —
Stewart: But isn’t that part of the problem? Selling this idea that you don’t have to do anything? Any time you sell people the idea that “sit back and you’ll get 10 or 20 percent on your money”, don’t you always know that’s going to be a lie? When are we going to realize in this country that our wealth is work? That we’re workers. And by selling this idea that of, “Hey, man — I’ll teach you how to be rich” — how is that different than an informercial?
Cramer: Well, I think that your goal should always be to try to expose the fact that there is no easy money —
Stewart: But there are literally shows called Fast Money!
Cramer: Well, there’s a market for it, and you give it to them, and I think that —
Stewart: There’s a market for cocaine and hookers! So what? What is the responsibility of the people who cover Wall Street? Who are you responsible to? The people with the 401(k)s and the pensions, and the general public? Or the Wall Street traders?
It’s uncomfortable to watch Cramer take his lumps, but at the same time, the interview is fascinating. Stewart seems to be saying that the people who have been giving financial advice are complicit in the failure of the system. And if they’re not actually experts, if what they’re providing is only entertainment, then their advice is no better than playing the lottery.
Remember: In general, it pays to ignore financial news. Sound investing is based on your personal financial goals and a pre-determined investment strategy. It’s based on time-tested wisdom from actual experts, not on daily updates from talking heads on TV. The shallow, breathless reporting in certain corners of the financial media simply fans the fires of greed. It de-educates.
When you watch shows like Fast Money or Jim Cramer’s Mad Money (or even Nightly Business Report), do so with an active mind. Be critical of the information you hear. Ask yourself what motivation the network and the reporter have, as well as the people they profile and interview. Should you trust a CEO who says her company is doing great? Is short-term market movement really important if you won’t retire for 30 years? When a show recommends a stock, do your own research, and don’t just trust the host.
See also: “Traders Profit Best by Ignoring Most Financial News” from Smart Money.
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