3/16/2009

On being … my hero

By Ingrid Sapona

As a kid growing up, I never had a hero. Not having one didn’t bother me or anything -- I’m just saying, I never had one. During adolescence I became more aware of the fact that I didn’t have one -- but that’s just because I heard people express concern that girls, in general, were at a disadvantage because they didn’t have as many role models or heroes. As I made my way into adulthood, the topic came up occasionally, but pretty much only as a philosophical question over a second or third drink -- and it always seemed to be men that asked. Given all this, at some point, I guess I just figured heroes are a guy thing.

Well, I’ll be darned. After all these years -- I now have a hero. I’ll be honest -- before I sat down to right this, I did a bit of gut checking, soul searching and, of course, I looked up the word to make sure I’m not fooling myself about this. I’m not.

So, I say without hesitation or reservation: Jon Stewart is my hero. I know some women may feel I’m letting down the sisterhood by having a male as a hero -- but to them I say nonsense! As far as I’m concerned, Stewart should be the hero of all who believe no one is telling it like it is when it comes to the economy and who have felt, as I have, unheard in all of this.

You’ve no doubt heard about Stewart’s interview of CNBC’s Jim Cramer last week. The interview was the culmination of a week that started with Stewart’s show (The Daily Show on Comedy Central) ridiculing CNBC’s coverage of Wall Street. Jim Cramer took particular umbrage at the clips the Daily Show ran of his CNBC show “Mad Money” and so, over the course of the week, Cramer popped up on a number of other programs to talk about the economy and to defend himself. Finally, on the 12th, Cramer agreed to be on The Daily Show.

I had mixed feelings about the Stewart/Cramer interview. It had received a lot of hype and I thought it would end up playing out as a manufactured brouhaha -- the verbal equivalent of a World Wresting Federation match. From the moment the interview began, however, it was clear my concerns were unfounded. Stewart was friendly to Cramer, but he was clearly in a serious mood.

Stewart was tremendously well prepared and he proved to be masterful at cross-examination. Early on, after getting Cramer to blow is own horn about the fact that he was a hedge fund manager for many years, Stewart ran a clip of Cramer explaining how easy it is to make money short selling. When the clip was finished, Stewart asked him to explain what that means. Cramer then launched into an impressive sounding explanation that also included him claiming he didn’t short sell. Stewart interrupted and said it sounded like he did. Cramer then said that if it sounded that way, it’s because he was inarticulate. Well -- if you’re a fan of Perry Mason -- you know what’s coming next… Stewart says “roll 210” -- and you guessed it, 210 is a tape of Cramer saying that, in fact, he did short sell.

I’ll admit, I’m not a fan of Cramer -- he’s always struck me as more bluster than substance. That evening he was Mr. Humble, however, admitting again and again that he should have done better but that he tried. One of the most interesting things about Cramer’s performance was that he kept referring to “the shenanigans” that were “going on”. Shenanigans? Shenanigans? Referring to all the abuses and schemes that various companies have carried out the past few years and that have led us into this financial crisis as shenanigans is either incredibly condescending to us or betrays a lack of understanding of what really was going on, either of which is reprehensible.

Stewart then paraphrased one of my favorite concepts from law school, arguing that the financial news industry is not just guilty of a sin of omission -- it was guilty of the sin of commission and that the industry was in bed with Wall Street. Cramer argued they weren’t in bed together and whined that there was nothing he could do because people lied to him. Stewart wouldn’t hear of it, saying the idea CNBC could have on guys from Bear Sterns and Merrill who leveraged 35 to 1 and then blame mortgage holders is insane and he objected to Cramer trying to play the doe-eyed innocent.

Then came the part of the interview that made me want to sing out, “Thank you Mr. Stewart” for giving voice to what many of us feel. After yet another clip, Stewart said, “I gotta tell you -- I understand you want to make finance entertaining, but it’s not a f---ing game … When I watch that … I can’t tell you how angry that makes me because what it tells me is (at this point his voice goes from angry to quietly indignant): You all know. You all know what’s going on…”.

But what really nailed down for me Stewart’s title as my hero was something he said that, though difficult to admit, contains a lesson for us all: “… any time you sell people the idea you don’t have to do anything … that you can sit back and you’ll get 10 to 20% on your money… that’s a lie. Our wealth is work … we’re workers … and selling this idea of ‘hey man, I’ll teach you how to be rich’” is really just an infomercial. Hear, hear, Mr. Stewart.

So there you have it -- a hero is born.

P.S. If you haven’t seen the show and are interested, those in the U.S. can watch it on the Internet at: www.thedailyshow.com; those in Canada can watch it at on CTV's web site.

© 2009 Ingrid Sapona

1 Comments:

Anonymous Fred H Schlegel said...

Saw you referenced over at the Northwestern Linkedin blog request. Nice post about Stewart - he did an amazing job giving voice to questions that few name brand journalists seemed willing to ask.

12:26 AM  

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