In the must-watch video of the decade, Jon Stewart wiped the floor with Jim Cramer last night on the Daily Show. It would all be a moot point if it weren't for the record loss of wealth in 2008 -- in which falling stock and home prices wiped out four years of gains in Americans' net worth -- $11.2 trillion, or 18%. Since it was there all the way, largely coddling those who caused the problems, Stewart's point is that CNBC was more of a bubble inflator than a popper.
Stewart's most effective videos were the ones he showed of Cramer talking about how he manipulated stocks as a short seller. The series of videos portray Cramer as a shady character and raise some serious questions about why the SEC did not investigate Cramer on the basis of the strong hints that he was engaging in behavior that may have crossed the line when it comes to using rumors and other tactics to push down the price of a stock so he could profit from shorting it.
Perhaps the worst part from Cramer's standpoint is that he did not offer much of a defense, in what surely must have been an uncomfortable experience for him. To be fair, the loss of wealth is not Cramer's fault. For that you need to look at securitization, 35:1 leverage, pay that puts profits in private pockets and losses -- $10 trilllion in government bailouts so far -- on the taxpayer, and deregulation that lets Walll Street get away with it all.
In Stewart's victory over Cramer, we are still the poorer.
Peter Cohan is president of Peter S. Cohan & Associates. He also teaches management at Babson College. His eighth book is You Can't Order Change: Lessons from Jim McNerney's Turnaround at Boeing.