Much is being made of the Jon Stewart/Jim Cramer face-off. This is a non-story if ever there was one. Financial television's answer to Emeril Live vs. a late-night satirical "news hour." It's like Scrubs calling out Grey's anatomy for an unrealistic portrayal of medicine, and the New England Journal of Medicine deciding to write up the whole thing as a "the debate on the role of modern medicine."
Having said that, I watched it because Stewart's point has some weight (this is one of those times where the line between comedy and real-edy blur on the show): If CNBC is a news organization, where were the hard questions before the crash, and, for that matter, where are they now? Executives still come on the show every day and give their pitch, then wait for softball questions.
I think the answer is that CEOs come to CNBC precisely because they know they'll get the softballs. Their media people say, "Boss, we can't get our message across on CBS Nightly News or Anderson Cooper." What they mean is, "You'll be asked a lot of hard questions byt people disinclined to like your answers. Also, you're good in investor meetings and board rooms. Television requires a little something more. Oh, and we can't control what they do on the editing floor. If they want to splice you to look like a greedy boob, they will." CNBC, on the other hand, will have you on live - no splicing; they respect business moguls - no derisive tone; and they want you back - no gotcha questions.
This is how Fox News got its start. Conservatives, finding an unfriendly media they dubbed "liberal," started their own network with the opposite bent. White House and Congressional politicos wanting to get their message out unfettered found a willing audience and a channel was born.
Part of me is asking: Have we started a race to the bottom, where people just pick and choose their media outlets to craft their messages? The other part says: Wait, there has always been an editorial bent from paper to paper, radio station to station, and now on TV. It's just that the increase in the scale of TV news has made them more obvious to more of us.
One can ask whether Fox has had/continued a polarizing trend - see Olberman on MSNBC (on the left) - and speculate whether CNBC (ironically, on the right) may give rise to a TV outlet far more critical of business. And, no, Comedy Central is not that outlet.