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2009-03-16 17:17:40

Hooray for Jon Stewart: The Financial Media Gets Its Comeuppance


As a columnist, I’ve been hammering the financial media for years. I’ve warned consumers not to believe what they read about the housing market because it’s being manipulated as unashamedly as the stock market.
But I’ve felt like a loner. I’ve been called a “housing whore.” But nobody has ever accused me of not doing my job as a journalist. I’ve found convincing support for the argument that housing is still the best investment there is, and I’m standing by it.  
Among the financial media’s many sins of ignorance are treating stocks and housing as equals, and the assumption they should behave the same way as investments. News journalists deify hedgefund product designers like Macromarket co-founder Robert Shiller and econophonies like CNBC’s Mad Money’s Jim Cramer, publishing their market-shattering prognostications without question. 
But their worst offense, in my opinion, is their failure to protect the public. News media  publish press releases as if they’re feted, and use the same tired negatively-biased sources over and over again, because they know what they’re getting – headlines that rivet eyeballs to doomsday headlines.   
That’s why I’m grateful to Jon Stewart for his investigation, interrogation, and exposure of the whole dirty business. It began with Stewart’s take on a rant by journalist Rick Santelli, in which he attempts to rally a stock market audience to outrage over bailouts to homeowners. Stewart responds that homeowners merely took money thrust at them by banks and insurers promising to insure the loans like AIG. Why wouldn’t homebuyers take the advice of financial experts?
Now those same banks are accepting billions in bailouts. AIG to date? Over $175 billion in bailout money. See this piece on the Daily Show website. And the finger of blame is pointing at everyone but the true miscreants – lying CEOs and the access-hungry and enabling media.
Now Stewart’s on a crusade and he’s attacking one of the bad guys – Jim Cramer. The exchanges between these two media titans is becoming the stuff of legend, including a Daily Show interview between Stewart and Cramer that’s all over the Internet like a celebrity mug shot. See this piece on the Daily Show website. An indignant Stewart doesn’t let Cramer off the hook for a second.  He blames Cramer, CNBC, and others for their roles in exacerbating the current economic crisis.
He forces accountability on Cramer for slimy insider tips on how he manipulated the market to benefit his hedge fund, (filmed in 2006.) Stewart demands change and gets Cramer to agree to start protecting the outsiders – the rest of us, and our pensions, 401Ks, IRAs, and mutual funds. He points out that we should be able to look at the media for guidance and insight, not manipulation in favor the CEOs who are seldom held accountable for their lies and manipulations.    
But what’s wrong with this picture is that Stewart is an entertainer, a satirist, a comedian.   While I’m glad he found an easy target in the clownish and cowering Cramer, the obvious miscreants are still going largely unpunished - the monumentally guilty CEOs, the permissive SEC, shady Bernard Madoffs, greedy banks, misguided government officials, and a host of others.
Where’s the outrage by the financial press? It doesn’t exist. That’s why Stewart should be applauded. He did the job the financial press should be doing, and a better job of it, at that.  With few exceptions, the financial press is overwhelmingly lazy, star-struck, glib, flip, ignorant, biased and self-serving, as evidenced by his hilarious outtakes.
Writing a story to fit an editor’s attempts to boost circulation isn’t journalism. Taking the word of CEOs over the health of their companies isn’t journalism. Undermining homebuying because the reporter can’t afford a home of his own isn’t journalism. And telling the public that buying a house is a “stupid idea”, (Cramer’s own words) without foreseeing the impact on consumer confidence, jobs, tax bases, and community welfare isn’t journalism.
It’s just plain irresponsible, and I’m glad to see Cramer get his comeuppance. However, he’s the court jester, not the power on the thrones of Wall Street.  
I only ask that Stewart doesn’t stop with Cramer, that he continues to expose the rulers, the decision-makers, the manipulators, the fraudsters.
Jon, we need you. You may be an entertainer, but you may also be the best financial journalist we have.    
Blanche Evans is CEO of Evans Emedia, Inc. and publisher of The Evans Ezine. As an award-winning journalist, Blanche has been named one of the "25 Most Influential People In Real Estate" by REALTOR Magazine, and twice recognized as one of the industry's most "Notables."   


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