Update: My own reaction to the interview is obviously a minority view; much more typical, and probably more accurate, is James Fallows’ reaction.
I was going to liveblog it, but the civility of the thing, along with the finance talk, is just hurting my mind. Yeah, he’s got the YouTube clips of Cramer talking about how to manipulate stocks. And we’ve got both hosts in-character: Stewart has chosen to play the role of the representative of his audience, mischievous but angry at the big guys, and Cramer is responding by also pretending to be the audience’s friend, who’s trying to guide them through the mean world of finance that he knows so well. Both of them are playing characters, but considering that this is Stewart’s show, Cramer’s not doing too badly. He made the right decision to play the meek, cordial guy whose feelings are hurt. Here are some random thoughts, as opposed to liveblogging:
– I find it interesting that Cramer gets tongue-tied and flustered when Stewart compares CNBC to infomercials. The talk about the failings of financial reporting aren’t that hard for him to respond to, because he agrees with all that, but the fact that his network is basically pointless entertainment rather than news is the thing that really gets him nervous.
– Who is the Happy Days obsessive on The Daily Show writing staff? They called Bernie Madoff “Arthur Ponzarelli,” and this is like the half-dozenth Happy Days reference this year.
– Stewart knows lots of guys on Wall Street. No wonder the audience can’t respond with particularly hearty applause. What I mean by that is, that’s the one moment in the interview where Stewart admits that he is a rich member of the media elite. The weird thing about this interview is that it’s between two members of the media elite whose careers depend on pretending they aren’t.
– Stewart is on safer ground when he talks about the problem of the culture of reporting, believing whatever your sources tell you, since this is a problem that applies not just to CNBC but to everything. But he doesn’t get much time to talk about this issue, because…
– The interview ends abruptly. Maybe they’ll show more of it in another episode, maybe not (it was apparently very long and had to be edited down, hence the awkward cuts), but what we got of it was pretty tame. Not because they didn’t scream at each other; these guys like each other. But the original point of last week’s segment has gotten almost completely lost in this interview: it was, you’ll remember, a response to Rick Santelli’s statement that foreclosed-on homeowners were “losers,” and the response was to show all the CNBC people who exercised bad judgment. It was about the bizarre spectacle of people who helped create the financial mess with their bad judgment using the “bad judgment” accusations against homeowners and such. But I don’t really know exactly what this interview with Cramer was about. I don’t blame Stewart or Cramer for that; the problem is that this interview couldn’t help but be mostly about Jim Cramer — even as Stewart tried to emphasize that Cramer is not the issue — and the original issue got lost.
Moral of the story, for me: Hotly-anticipated interviews on The Daily Show can’t help but be anti-climactic.
Addendum: Stewart did get in one reference to the original issue (and Cramer basically had to agree with him), but it was fleeting. The thing that interests me most about what’s going on here is the question of where populist rage should be directed. CNBC, for obvious reasons, wants to deflect populist anger away from the culture it represents, so you get Rick Santelli’s new definition of populism as a revolt of traders and investors against “losers.” But the reason I found the Stewart/Cramer interview a bit low-voltage is that both interviewer and interviewee seemed to be in agreement on who we should be angry at; they were just disagreeing on what to do about it.
And I agree with a commenter that the Daily Show/Colbert Report interviews are often spoiled by the audience’s need to cheer and applaud when the host makes a gotcha point. It often seems to stop the conversation from going anywhere.