The “week-long feud of the century” kicked off The Daily Show’s March 12 episode with host Jon Stewart flexing his muscles and concluded with a conciliatory friendly handshake with CNBC’s Mad Money host James Cramer. But if this was a friendly make-good appearance intended to follow up on Stewart’s unusually lengthy (8 minutes) and vitriolic take-down of CNBC on March 4 and his follow-up show that focused on Cramer on March 10, there were plenty of hard punches by Stewart, leaving Cramer scrambling to explain himself and his network’s ways.
Before Stewart introduced Cramer, the comedian showed in a set-up piece how he supposedly trained for the interview. Sitting in a mock interrogation room with a bright light shining in his face, Stewart was peppered with questions: How many stocks are in the Dow Jones Industrial average? What is Tier 1 capital? Meanwhile, what was Cramer doing to prepare? He was shown as a guest on the Martha Stewart Show learning how to bake pies. “Don’t you destroy enough dough on your own show?” Stewart joked, after seeing Martha and Cramer slamming rolling pins into pastry dough while invoking Stewart’s name. “How weird is our world that Jim Cramer is on TV baking pie and Martha Stewart is the one who went to jail for securities fraud?” Stewart quipped.
Then Cramer was introduced, appearing as he usually does with a tie and his shirt sleeves rolled up, smiling, ready to rumble. Stewart calmly asked him, how did we get here? Then he launched a barrage of questions that seemed to stagger Cramer. The audience was more quiet than usual, and less boisterous. Comedy Central said the interview ran long and it planned to cut a funny bit about short selling by Samantha Bee (it will be featured on another episode). The entire interview should be available unedited on ComedyCentral.com on Friday.
Stewart’s original beef was with CNBC reporter Rick Santelli’s rant against President Barack Obama’s plan to bail out homeowners who can’t pay their mortgages. “It struck us as bad form for a network that has been cheerleading banks,” Stewart says. “It was ballsy and ignorant.” (Last week, Santelli canceled an appearance on The Daily Show, prompting Stewart to air an episode that brought Cramer and other CNBC talent into the fray. They were shown reporting that banks like Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers would survive, in the days and weeks leading up to their forced takeover or bankruptcy. That episode was circulated widely the next day throughout the Web.)
In Thursday night’s episode, Stewart showed at least four videos of Cramer talking about short selling and his trading tactics while he was a hedge fund manager. He also chastised him about CNBC reporters who had access to financial executives but didn’t use it to press them about their institutions’ huge problems. “We got a lot of things wrong,” Cramer admitted. “Our real sin was we to believe [the market] could go up a lot in the face of … a lot of borrowing and shenanigans. I thought they [CEOs] were honest.” (The CEOs he was referring to were the former chief of Bear Stearns and Wachovia’s former CEO Bob Steel.) Cramer also pointed out that he’s been “tough” on former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke on his show.
Stewart relentlessly took Cramer to task for CNBC’s marketing tactics and the slogan “In Cramer We Trust,” and in turn, damaging investors’ trust. CNBC is “selling this idea that you can sit back and you’ll get 10%” returns on your money, Stewart contended, questioning how that is different from an infomercial. He quipped: “There’s a market for cocaine and hookers.” Stewart shared what many exasperated investors feel: “My mom is 75 - she bought into the idea to buy into the market and hold.”
Stewart suggested: “Maybe we can remove ‘In Cramer We Trust’ and get back to real reporting and I can go back to making fart noises and funny faces.”
Cramer responded: “I think we make that deal right here.” They shook hands, and the feud was over. For now.