Friday, March 13, 2009

Jon Stewart and the Fifth Estate

I'm a bit surprised that Jon Stewart's "interview" of Jim Cramer hasn't garnered more attention. Many media outlets (with the notable absence of CNBC, which is pretending it didn't happen) have mentioned the existence of some "smack-down" between Stewart and Cramer, but few have give the content of the interview any analysis.

It was the most important piece of journalism of the financial crisis to date. Watch the whole interview from last night here. Notably--and this was the hidden theme of Stewart's criticism of Cramer and CNBC--it came from a self-professed "fake news show."

Maybe the Fourth Estate is hoping that, by giving the existence of this interview lip service, but pretending that it was only funny--rather than an indictment of the Fourth Estate itself--they could somehow marginalize Stewart's conclusions. If you haven't watched the interview, please do so. Then consider whether the main-stream press, regardless of which political market-segment they try to capture, can remain legitimate when it is fundamentally designed to opitimize profit, not distribute civilizationally-valuable and accurate information.

The unresolved question lingering around Stewart's interview is whether or not the problem we've encountered is "solveable," meaning that with proper regulation and reporting we can get back to business as usual and live in a world where investment returns are something more than, to quote Nassim Taleb, "money borrowed from destiny with a random payback time."

Regular readers will know that I think we're facing a phase-shift from perpetual growth to perpetual contraction, driven by diminishing energy supplies, ecological constraints, and diminishing returns on our investments in technology and other forms of complexity. Most people, I imagine, will refuse to accept this even if they realize that it is 100% true. What will this lead to? John Michael Greer has an excellent piece answering that question.


Peter said...

Glad to see you're encouraging the watching of this-I was astonished last night to see such an event happening on "television". I wonder how many tuned it out because it wasn't funny? Neil Postman would have been proud, I think, to see such a rare use of mass media. Do you think we'll see more? I'm also watching the BBC series "the Power of Nightmares" this evening, and wondering what it would take to see more of this type of use of interested audience, I suppose.

Anonymous said...

It's Jon Stewart, not John.

Very interesting episode of the Daily Show. It seems only satire knows how to designate what's wrong.

Jeff Vail said...

Good point, spelling fixed from John to Jon...

Anonymous said...

upon reading this article it reminded me of an old quote I recently read.

"but the press is, almost without exception, corrupt. I believe that in this country the press exerts a greater and a more pernicious influence than the church did in its worst period...they live and rule only by their servility, and appealing to the worse, and not the better, nature of man, the people who read them are in the condition of the dog that returns to his vomit."

full text here:

Peter O said...

I watched this the other day and I think it's just sad. The first time I saw anything about Jim Cramer was on the TV show Arrested Development. The second time that I paid any attention is when he kept screaming at people to not sell Bear Stearns. Clearly the media is manipulating viewers to their own favorable outcome. Not to mention all the problems on Wallstreet make me sick.

malcolm said...

Great tv!

How long does anyone give the current Fourth Estate?

With the closure of so many newspapers and the declining quality of reporting, and scarcity of investigative reporting, it is past time that someone bought a respectable newsroom and funded the whole thing as a public good.

Theo_musher said...

I really liked that, even though I usually like Colbert more. Jon Stewart was being a serious hard hitting journalist here. Way better that "Hardball" Chris Matthews or the late Tim Russet from "Meet thre Press" ever have been.

Still though about the last paragraph, I have to take exception. First of all this is a bubble here that is bursting. The model is of private profit and public risk for an elite bunch of cowboys pirates and gamblers.

So in a way by saying that once this bubble bursts, the party is over for everyone..isn't that giving the bubble and its profiteers too much dignity? In a way its saying the bubble was needed for everyone to survive and have the standard of living that we have. It kind of like having an assumption that the bubble was good for everyone and now that its gone bad things will happen to everyone.

I see a greater opportunity for good now than at any time in recent history. Greater potential for the responsible use and administration of resources for the good of all. I see the World's wealth increasing. The real wealth and not an illusory bubble.

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