Atlas Shrugged: The Mocking

Friday, March 13, 2009

McArdle v. Truth

Megan McArdle has a deceptively complex post up about the war of words between Jim Cramer of CNBC and Jon Stewart. Unfortunately I'll have to take this slow.
The buzz today is Cramer's appearance on Jon Stewart's show. I've been of two minds about this whole fooforaw, which is why I haven't blogged about it. On the one hand, I am not a fan of financial cable news (Bloomberg usually excepted). I think Jim Cramer should be illegal. Anyone who invests money based on one of these networks, or Wall Street Week, should seriously consider making themselves a ward of the court. Anyone in the business who goes on one of those shows is talking their book. If anyone has a good way to make money above and beyond broad, boring strategies like stock indices or bond funds, will not tell you about it.

So Jim Cramer should be illegal, presumably meaning arrested for admitting on tape to illegal practices while running a hedge fund. But what does McArdle think the purpose of the business channel is except give financial advice? If nobody were to take it seriously there would be no reason for it to exist. It isn't that entertaining to see people sit around in suits talking about money. And the anchors aren't entertainers, with the possible exception of Cramer. No, the stated purpose and the behavior of the anchors amply demonstrate that the network is meant to be taken seriously. It's just not an issue, unless you're trying to excuse inexcusable behavior. Glibly stating that nobody takes CNBC seriously when it is televised into countless homes and provides countless hours of financial information is just dishonest. Maybe McArdle doesn't take it seriously but a lot of other people do and you can't just hand-wave them away.
If anyone has a good way to make money above and beyond broad, boring strategies like stock indices or bond funds, will not tell you about it.

This is a non-sequitur. The network reports on the stock and bond markets primarily.
On the other hand, the Jon Stewart video that touched this off was clearly misleading.

McArdle can't be bothered to back up this statement with a single example. If your are going to call someone misleading, you must prove it.
I do watch these channels, not for the interview but for the tickers and the breaking financial news.

I watch these channels too, interviews included. I've seen hundreds if not thousands of hours of CNBC in the last four years.
And it was obvious from the clips that half of them were anchors and reporters simply quoting someone else--it's the equivalent of dinging someone for using a racial epithet in the context of discussing racial epithets.

No, it isn't. This is either a lie or a gross misunderstanding due to stupidity. CNBC purports to report honestly on the financial world. They are either idiots or tools for not seeing any of this financial storm coming, and indeed actively fought against the idea of anything untoward in the financial industries. Goldilocks economy, greatest story never told, Bush Boom--I watched these anchors suck up to power and worship at the feet of billionaires, fluff up GE stock, lie about what was going on around them, and endlessly cheer lead on Bush, Paulson, and Goldman Sachs. And now that a Democrat is president and must clean up the financial mess, Cramer and Larry Kudlow are especially vituperative in accusing Obama of destroying the economy and ushering in socialism.
Ultimately, I find Stewart disturbing because in some sense he's doing exactly what Cramer is--making powerful statements, and then when he gets called on him, retreating into the claim that well, you can't really expect him to act as if he were being taken seriously. Jim Cramer, whose stockpicking acumen seems slightly worse than your average monkey with a dartboard, frequently issues recommendations that people act on, then brushes off the failures with a shrug.

Ah, the old excuse that everyone who was ever burned by Stewart pulls out of his rear end. Her portentous intoning about the professional responsibilities of the comedy show and its host are ridiculous--a comedy show about the media is not the same thing as the media. This point is so very self-evident that nobody should be able to misunderstand it. Cramer purports to give stock advice. He says he's there to make people money, and people call into his show to get advice. It's what he and CNBC do. Stewart makes jokes about people. He doesn't report on the media, he makes fun of the media. Just like I don't report on economics, I make fun of Megan McArdle. You would think even an idiot would understand that.
Jon Stewart also shapes peoples' decisions.

No, he doesn't. He makes people laugh. They don't take him seriously. They laugh at his words and funny pictures.
Video is a medium with powerful claims to reality--people tend to think that if they saw it, it must be true.

Sure, very, very stupid people. Otherwise don't tell me people think Dora the Explorer and Jon Stewart are really discussing CNBC. It just makes me angry, I get sarcastic when I get angry.
This makes it uniquely good at manipulating its audience with skillful editing.

Bullshit. Okay, I get profane when I'm angry.
I'm very sympathetic to Stewart's deep critique of financial shows, but I don't think the way to go about it was to string together a bunch of very misleading clips.

Prove they were misleading. You can't, because they weren't.
Nor to imply that Santelli, who has been vocally against all bailouts from the beginning, was merely frothing on the foreclosure program because ordinary taxpayers were finally getting a taste of federal largesse.

Stewart was slamming Santelli for calling people losers for trusting people like Santelli. Which McArdle really should be able to figure out.
But Stewart carefully claims he's just an entertainer, so he has no obligation to hew to journalistic standards on things like quoting out of context.

That's right. (Wrong about context, though.) Because he really is an entertainer, not a journalist. His show is a comedy show. It is not a news show. He is not a reporter. CNBC is a financial news show. It has people on it who really are supposed to be reporters. But I can understand that McArdle is confused, as she also seems to accept whatever a banker tells her. Which makes mining her archives for foolishness such a fruitful endeavor.


Chad said...

Megan really ought to have enough sense to leave targets like Jon Stewart and Glenn Greenwald alone. In terms of talent and intellect it's like seeing Luxembourg declare war on Russia.

And it's funny how Megan echoed Cramer's own pathetic excuses by crying "context!" (especially given that Stewart and his team actually did go out of their way to thoroughly rebut that particular claim). Mediocre minds think alike.

MikeG said...

Megan's disingenuous idiocy aside, I don't think you are giving Stewart enough credit in terms of what he does beyond the yucks. In my opinion, he (and Colbert) are some of the best, if not the best serious media criticism going these days. Their texts and often very subtle subtexts are often very complex and trenchant critiques of the processes and practices of media (and politics) at this particular moment. And that they are blindingly funny (indeed much of what they do could only be done through humor) is really just a massive bonus in my book.

ChicagoEd said...

Of course Megan will stick up for the CNBC folks who simply regurgitate what CEOs and Wall Street hacks tell them without fact checking anything before their "reports" are aired. Because Megan does a very similar thing. She's always writing about what she "hears" and what anonymous "economists" tell her over the phone or what someone emailed to her.

It's really very patriarchal and fits in with MM's authoritarian tendencies. You see, there are people at the highest end of society--CEOs, economists, traders, etc.--who have incredible knowledge due to their superior standing in life. If Megan can cozy up to them and get them to talk to her, then she has a story to post on her blog like this: "The talk I'm hearing is that..." But she never fact-checks anything or does anything to factually substantiate what she's posting. Then--the arrogance--she acts as if she's doing her readers a favor.

Julia Grey said...

The problem, of course, is that "the talk Megan McArdle is hearing" is limited by the people she deigns to talk to (or who deign to talk to HER).

It's the same problem all establishment media has these days. They are too invested in having "access" to the big boys to criticize them in any way, shape or form.

I, too, used to watch a ton of CNBC, mostly Squawk Box with that endlessly annoying frat boy Joe Kernen. Sometimes you can read between the lines of what they're saying, so it was occasionally mildly useful, but more as a NEGATIVE indicator than anything else.

It was clear to me even then that they asked CEOs slightly challenging questions ONLY when it had become obvious that a firm was in trouble, and the trouble was already reflected in the current market for the company's stock. The interview was only meant to give the CEO an opportunity to make plausible excuses and possibly halt its decline.

I eventually recognized the entire enterprise to be kabuki, and I hated Kernen so much that after a while I couldn't even watch it to know what NOT to do.

Susan of Texas said...

MikeG--I should do another post on that, because you're right. I only addressed whether Stewart should be held to journalistic standards. Of course I adore what he and Colbert do; political humor is what I'm trying to do too.

Chad--Good point. And they both are meticulous in trying to soften and manipulate the consequences of their wrong statements.

ChicagoEd--Yes, she's going to believe the father-figure authority and she's going to seek alliance with the elite also. Everything reinforces everything else.

Julia Gray--It's like reading McArdle, incredibly annoying yet so revealing. They don't just want money, they want the thrill of watching the stock market go up constantly. They want more and more and more. It's no wonder the financial mess is so severe. Nobody was holding the elite back and their greed has no end.

How is this so? These people revere the idea of strict, unchanging moral standards and rigid conformity. They should be afraid to be so nakedly greedy and out of control. Yet somehow the American public gave them permission to indulge without limit. I could blame the prosperity gospel of megachurches, but there's a lot more to it than that.

clever pseudonym said...

If Megan had the slightest understanding as to what "journalistic standards" even meant, you'd think she'd employ them from time to time. That post is a new low in dumb, even from her standards. Did she really admonish what is blatantly a satirical "news" show for not providing professional journalism?

Susan of Texas said...

Will she try to wiggle out of it? WIll she come up with countless explanations? Will she just ignore the whole situation?

Megan's more fun than a barrel of monkeys.