If we ever needed more evidence of the dramatic shift in clout and relevance in journalism in North America witness the public excoriation of CNBC’s Mad Money host Jim Cramer by Jon Stewart last month. After being taken to task for hyping financial companies that soon imploded as part of the economic meltdown, Cramer embarked on a strange, ill-advised PR effort that threw napalm on the initial feud and ultimately left Cramer as the bruised, admonished loser.
A column in the USA Today by Robert Bianco suggests there are three lessons one can take from this media tussle:
1. Choose your friends wisely: Cramer sought support from blustery, ultra-conservative pundits like Tucker Carlson and Joe Scarborough and dubious public figures like Martha Stewart;
2. Know your enemy: Cramer initially dismissed Stewart as a comedian of little depth or consequence;
3. Know when to shut up: Cramer’s initial denials and attacks on Stewart were disingenuous, ill-advised and totally backfired.
To his credit, Cramer eventually saw the light and admitted he erred in a humiliating dressing-down by Jon Stewart himself. This was a worse beating than the one suffered by Ross Perot in the infamous debate with Al Gore on Larry King years ago. But by admitting his mistake and promising to do better Cramer at least staunched the bleeding and opened the door to public redemption. Though his credibility (whatever it was) has been severely damaged, he has shown he can learn from his mistakes…if belatedly.
There are two fundamental lessons from this episode, beyond the ones offered above. One, do not assume who has inherent credibility or clout based on their job or self-assigned credentials. Despite his defined role as a comedian, Stewart easily out-punched Cramer and his cohorts and showed himself (once again) to be a smart, credible and very influential commentator on issues of national importance. Two, know when to go quietly and avoid the spotlight. As noted by the USA Today, all publicity is not good publicity.