Fixing CNBC – with comedians and progressives

March 16, 2009 at 8:11 pm 1 comment

Jon StewartLast week, a somewhat comic, somewhat serious feud between Jon Stewart and Jim Cramer brought to the surface what many of us were thinking: CNBC, in particular “Mad Money,” practices pretty shoddy journalism.

Stewart stated, and rightly so, that pundits like Cramer serve as a PR machine for Wall Street instead of holding Wall Street accountable. Cramer even admitted to Stewart that he allows guests to tell blatant lies on his show, and fails to challenge or rebut those lies.

Of course, Steve Holt at CloggedTubes makes the valid point that Stewart isn’t really a journalist. He’s an observer. Sure, he can make the case that CNBC, and journalists in general, need to start getting to the bottom of Wall Street’s irresponsible spending instead of perpetuating lies and behavior that got our country into an economic mess in the first place. But aside from observing, what really can he do to fix the problem?

Today, I discovered that a group of economists, journalists and progressive leaders created an open letter demanding that CNBC holds Wall Street accountable. Some notable signers include representatives from MoveOn.org, Media Matters for America, Center for American Progress, DailyKos.com and The Nation. (A dreamy group – what progressive wouldn’t want to sign an open letter with this crowd?)

The crux of the letter states:

Americans need CNBC to do strong, watchdog journalism – asking tough questions to Wall Street, debunking lies, and reporting the truth…

CNBC should publicly declare that its new overriding mission will be responsible journalism that holds Wall Street accountable.

If at least 5,000 people sign on to the petition, it will get delivered to CNBC’s headquarters. (A lovely populist touch, I have to admit.)

Aside from this being a great example of citizen activism, with word spread through blogs, Twitter and other social networks, this letter also may define what role Jon Stewart plays with his parody news program. Like I said above, Jon Stewart isn’t a journalist. But he IS an observer. And he communicates what he observes in a unique, compelling fashion. And he also serves to critique the journalism industry when journalists themselves fail to do so.

Before citizens take action, they need observations. They need watchdogs like Stewart to give them information and a compelling reason to act. In the case of Cramer and CNBC, Jon Stewart provided these necessary components.

Would this open letter have happened had Jon Stewart not engaged in his comic-serious feud with Cramer? Not likely.

Will this open letter send a message to CNBC to start practicing responsible journalism? Most likely (though its scope beyond Twitter, Digg and the blogosphere remains to be seen).

I’m interested to see the outcome of this letter. And I’m interested to see whether Jon Stewart’s role as a watchdog will get stronger because of it. Stay tuned …

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Entry filed under: Advocacy. Tags: , , , , , , .

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