So, maybe Jon Stewart told a lie on Tuesday night.
Let me back up, for those who haven’t been concerning themselves with basic cable recently: for the last week, Stewart has been going Chuck Norris on CNBC. It started with Stewart inviting reporter Rick Santelli, who went viral a few weeks ago with a rant about how the government shouldn’t subsidize “losers’ mortages,” to appear on the show. Santelli “bailed out” of the interview, but Stewart went ahead with a pre-planned assault on CNBC’s flawed business reporting (which encouraged investors to keep their money in stocks that collapsed in some cases days later).
Jim Cramer, one of the CNBC hosts Stewart referenced in the piece, responded in his Mainstreet.com column, claiming that, in regards to his recommendation of failed Bear Sterns stocks, he’d been taken out of context. Stewart roundhouse-kicked this statement in a Monday night segment that went through months of Cramer’s faulty recommendations on CNBC’s Mad Money, and Cramer responded the following day by making the talk show rounds and calling Stewart names (well, he called him a comedian — that’s not so bad, I suppose).
And that brings us to Tuesday night, and Stewart maybe lying. To my financially ignorant brain, anyway, his response to Cramer is right on, but the part of his story that I don’t buy (however exaggerated it might be) is that Stewart really watched any of Cramer’s TV talk-show responses on his TV. Why? Because he wouldn’t need to — and that’s not where the real action has been. This cable TV feud of epic proportions is one that’s really been playing out online (mostly to the benefit of The Daily Show). According to Variety, the clips have garnered 1.3 million views and the site’s uniques are up 65 percent.
Sure, you say, “Liz, don’t be so literal — for one thing, Jon Stewart was clearly joking about that chai latte thing, and for another it’s not hard for him to watch responses to his work on TV; he’s famous and important and has researchers whose only jobs are to cue the TiVo just so.” And perhaps that’s the case, but regardless, this is a feud being observed not by the people who sit down in front of their TVs and watch both CNBC in the mornings and Daily Show at night (can’t imagine there are too many people who do that) — this is a feud made by the circulation of the official Comedy Central clips around the various blogs, creating an echo chamber effect that has played out not over old media, but over Google Trends (the “twitscape,” as Stewart himself called it on Monday). It’s a true chicken-and-egg situation: without the TV clips, we would have nothing to talk about, but without the Internet, would anyone care?
It’s little surprise that people are paying attention. Folks feeling increasingly anxious about the economic crisis (both their lack of control over it and their relative inability to understand it) have been looking for a scapegoat, and that’s exactly what Stewart gave them. Whether it be true or not that CNBC contributed to the bubble’s inflation (as Stewart suggested to Dora the Explorer on Tuesday night), Cramer and his posse have had the misfortune of being the public faces of the financial market’s overconfidence, and their mistakes are out in the open, ripe for the mockery of Stewart — and, subsequently, the web.
Tonight, Jim Cramer will be appearing on The Daily Show to settle things once and for all, and the ratings will probably be a little bit higher. But it’s when the clip goes online that things will really explode.bp