Jim Cramer dutifully showed up for his tongue lashing from Jon Stewart on Thursday night’s Daily Show and it was like watching a neighborhood puppy wander into Michael Vick’s dog patch.
Cramer had been on a media rehabilitation tour all week (Today, Morning Joe, Martha Stewart). But his churlish appearance on Today and the sight of him flailing away on a ball of dough that domestic doyenne Martha Stewart helpfully suggest he pretend was Jon Stewart did not produce the intended result.
Bounding onto the Daily Show stage jacket-less with his shirt-sleeves rolled up (his signature look), Cramer opened by lamely telling Stewart that he is a “big fan of the show.”
“We threw some banana cream pies at CNBC,” said Stewart invoking one of Cramer’s gags on Mad Money, “you got a little schmutz on your jacket.”
Cramer admitted that the network has made some missteps in the run-up to the collapse of the banking system. “We all got it wrong. I think this is kind of a one in a million shot. I don’t think anyone should be spared. We’ve been out front and we’ve made mistakes. We’ve got 17 hours of live TV to do.”
Stewart countered that as TV personalities, both he and Cramer are to some extent “snake oil salesmen.” But, he said, The Daily Show is up front with its disclaimers while CNBC is “selling snake oil as vitamin tonic.”
Stewart stopped the interview to play multiple clips of a 2006 interview of Cramer on TheStreet.com in which the former hedge fund chief seemingly admitted to manipulating markets. (One can picture Cramer mopping his brow during these off-camera reprieves.)
Cramer offered that a lot of people - reporters, the government - refused to see the house of cards the financial systems had become.
“This thing was ten years in the making,” answered Stewart incredulously. “The idea that you can have on thee guys from Bear Stearns and Merrill Lynch; I mean these guys that were leveraged 35 to 1, and then blame mortgage holders. That’s insane!”
Cramer suggested that perhaps he should have made duplicitous CEO’s swear to tell the truth before they appeared on Mad Money.
“I’ve had a lot of CEOs lie to me on the show,” he said. “It’s very painful.”
More incredulity from Stewart: “You’re pretending that you’re a dew-eyed innocent! The CEO of a company lied to you?!”
Cramer said he was just as outraged as Stewart and the rest of us who have lost 60% of the value of our 401Ks.
“I want kangaroo courts,” he said. “Where are the indictments?”
But his repentant sentiment held little sway.
“It’s very easy to get on this after the fact,” said Stewart. “Nobody’s asking [CNBC] to be a regulatory agency. But whose side are they on? These guys at these companies were on a Sherman’s march through their companies financed by our 401ks.”
Throughout the interview, the Daily Show host wore his outrage on his sleeve, at times laying it on a bit thick. He frequently wagged his pen at Cramer while his audience applauded on cue.
So as evil swindler Bernie Madoff was getting his bail revoked in a Manhattan courtroom, Stewart was administering a public flogging upon one of the stalwarts of the financial media.
If Cramer thought he would earn a measure of deference for showing up and putting his own head in the pillory, he was sorely mistaken.
Does this end a particularly entertaining if disturbing chapter of recession fall-out? Perhaps. Cramer has always been a lightning rod, with plenty of fans and detractors. Has his credibility sustained irrevocable damage? Or can he rise again with the markets and our 401Ks? It will depend on him, of course. Perhaps it’s time to order up a lot more banana cream pies.