Thoughts on Jim Cramer vs. Jon Stewart

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There is a serious feud ongoing between Jon Stewart and Jim Cramer.

Stewart, as you probably know, used the Daily Show and other venues to slam the financial TV networks in general and CNBC specifically. The Mad Money host, who has become famous by instructing viewers to buy and sell individual stocks in a carnival barker style, came under especially harsh criticism.

Cramer then did a media tour to defend himself; you can see a video summarizing that here and read a column Cramer wrote on the subject here. Stewart responded; you can see that here. Cramer’s primary argument in all this is that Stewart is taking video snippets out of context to make him look bad — something a comedian or a blogger could do to any pundit. Cramer points out that Stewart never mentions the fact that he urged people to withdraw their money from the stock market October 2008, when the Dow was still around 10,000. He did do that, it’s true.

Cramer does deserve credit for (1) ending his market boosterism and Wall Street CEO ego-stroking before the rest of TV’s financial news community did the same, and (2) apologizing for some horrifically bad stock picks (he endorsed Wachovia stock after then-CEO Bob Steel came on Mad Money and pimped the bank). But ultimately that’s all tangential: What Cramer really needs to do is stop making ordinary people believe they can game the stock market on a day to day basis. A massive majority of the buying and selling done on Wall Street is done by banks and massive institutions with all the resources in the world at their disposal. Joe Sixpack and his 1,000 shares of Coca-Cola are just grease for the gears. If Joe invests his money long-term in low-risk index funds and mutual funds, he might ride out the market’s fluctuations. If he tries to move that Coca-Cola at just the right time, and buy Johnson & Johnson at just the right time, he’s going to get eaten alive.

Jim Cramer can defend himself all he wants. But his modus operandi is still problematic: he sends amateurs hurtling into a professional’s game.

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