CNBC's Rick Santelli and screamin' Jim Cramer are the AIG and Citi Group of TV pundits du jour. Their famous playground fight with American sweetheart, Daily Show's Jon Stewart, ended with Stewart eviscerating Cramer, as captured by Daily Finance writer Jonathan Berr who live-blogged the uncomfortable episode.
For a Hail Mary PR pass, the business news channel brought on a liberal bigwig to host -- former Democratic party chairman Howard Dean. Is there more liberalizing of CNBC to come? There's a growing movement called Fix CNBC that certainly hopes so. Its 20,000-plus supporters want the Wall Street-catering cable channel to model itself after Keith Olbermann and ask the tough questions, especially since the American people are now shareholders.
I spoke with Fix CNBC's Adam Green who was called a "bozo" on-air by Jim Cramer for writing about Erin Burnett being an "apologist for Wall Street." (The evidence Green presents is quite damning).
"The idea is there's a culture in CNBC that rewards getting access to C.E.O.s of failed corporations instead of holding the C.E.O.s accountable," says Green. "Erin Burnett comes on the air and repeats wrong talking points on how bailout money isn't being used for bonuses. We need that culture to change [and for CNBC to stop being] a mouthpiece for Wall Street."
As the niche channel moved mainstream, putting its hosts on shows like Meet the Press, it became evident that it wasn't broadcasting reality but how Wall Street wanted reality to be.
A group of organizers for Fix CNBC got to meet with execs about much-needed changes to the programming after delivering a letter calling for the channel to hold Wall Street accountable. Green says he can't talk about the conversation other than say it was productive. Right after Fix CNBC was launched, Howard Dean was hired and liberal activist/media powerhouse Arianna Huffington did some guest-hosting. Bringing in people who don't use "populism" like it's a bad word is certainly a good sign. But there's more work to be done.
"Is any investigative reporting going on at CNBC? Are they looking at every opportunity when they have a C.E.O. on to grill that C.E.O...to hold them accountable?" Green says that calling out bad companies and executives, like Keith Olbermann does of just about anybody who deserves it on his show, would help the troubled CNBC grow its audience and fix its reputation. Of course, once you start attacking people, as journalism goes, you risk losing access to them. But if CNBC can be as good and as relevant as Jon Stewart's Daily Show, then people will be forced to go on it, like Jim Cramer was.
Straight-shooter Dean, if given enough face time, could be the heart, the moral anchor the programming needs. Dean wasn't tapped for a position in Obama's White House, even though he helped orchestrate the Democrats' big victories last election with his historic 50 state strategy. So I want to see Howard Dean recreate himself as the Keith Olbermann of CNBC, shooting off his mouth and giving us a battle cry or two.
By the way, CNBC seems to be shedding pundits. The latest exit: one of the channel's star anchors, Dylan Ratigan, is leaving to go ask "questions" on a larger network, like ABC. So, CNBC, if you're hiring, there are some great people at the Seatle Post-Intelligencer who just got laid off and could probably look like Erin Burnett with the right lighting.
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