Did Network Drink Wall Street Kool-Aid?

Jim Cramer, left, host of the "Mad Money" show on CNBC, is welcomed by Jon Stewart during an appearance on Comedy Central's "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart," March 12, 2009 in New York.
AP Photo/Jason DeCrow

"The president and I talked earlier in the day yesterday about watching it," said White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs. "I enjoyed it thoroughly."

So what was "it"? A major speech? A policy analysis? A legislative breakthrough on the House or Senate floor?

No, reports, CBS News senior political correspondent Jeff Greenfield, it was Thursday night's "Daily Show," where host Jon Stewart's skewered CNBC's financial commentator and "Mad Money" host Jim Cramer.

Like a prosecutor bearing down on a decidedly uncomfortable witness, Stewart argued that the cable TV financial network - and by extension much of the business press - had given the public a false sense of financial security.

But, as Stewart acknowledged, Cramer was not the real target of his anger and CNBC is perhaps as much a symptom as a cause of what has happened over the last several years. CNBC's a network with a small but highly affluent audience, with a relentless, at times hyper-caffeinated intensity focused on the day-to-day movements of the markets.

"The reason they exist is to do this moment-to-moment, 'What's going to happen tomorrow,'" said James Surowiecki, financial columnist for the New Yorker magazine. "You know, I think that's pretty much a mug's game in terms of what it can actually tell ordinary people."

The core of Stewart's anger is his view that in its coverage - and in its lack of skepticism - the press was painting one picture to the public, while knowing full well that the reality was very different.

Stewart called it "a game that you know, that you know is going on, but you go on television as a financial network and pretend isn't happening."

Actually, says Surowiecki, much of Wall Street's problem was that it was fooling itself.

"A lot of guys on Wall Street, one way or another, drank their own Kool-Aid," he said.

Now, with the disappearance of $50 trillion, 4.5 million jobs, and an immeasurable loss of financial well-bring, the anger at what's happened is showing up across the media universe.

It reaches from ABC News - which followed the corporate jet travels of Bank of America's CEO with O.J.-like focus - to a piece on a lavish weekend party thrown by a Chicago bank. That story that aired on TMZ, a Web site mostly featuring the misbehavior of celebrities.

But the real question is this: How do we get the hard questions asked before things go wrong? That is the very serious question the late-night comedian was raising.

Jon Stewart's complete interview with Jim Cramer is embedded below, in three parts. Please note that this version of the interview is unedited and uncensored and contains explicit language.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

By Jeff Greenfield