We don’t produce a comedy show at night, so we don’t bother watching cable news during the day. Neither do most Americans — we’re a generation beyond the era when three broadcast networks controlled the national conversation.
We’re also a generation beyond the era when television news took itself seriously, when Network was over-the-top satire, when Doonesbury mocked Roone Arledge for turning ABC into “Wide World of News”. How silly we all were, thinking news could be about something other than ratings and advertising.
Which is part of what makes Jon Stewart interesting. Where we’ve long since given up caring, he still holds television news to standards long since abandoned, back when Beethoven’s Ninth introduced The Huntley-Brinkley Report, and not Countdown.
What’s more, he’s effective. Or at the very least, an early sign of change on the horizon.
Part of his reputation rests on the Crossfire takedown, when he suggested — as a guest on the show — that talking-head shouting matches were bad for Democracy. Crossfire disappeared soon after his appearance, and even if it was near cancellation anyway, the point had been made.
And if you missed that point — Barack Obama’s campaign was all about it.
That’s the context that came to mind as we watched Thursday night’s interview with Jim Cramer — the interview we likely would have seen a week ago with Rick Santelli, had he showed up. The interview wasn’t about Cramer acting like an idiot with a room full of toys, but about CNBC as a cheerleader for corporations and day-traders, Arbitrage for Dummies. CNBC’s hosts (including Cramer) had the expertise and experience to explain what was really happening during the stock-market bubble, but kept that to themselves.
Will Jon Stewart shame CNBC into submission? Of course not. But he’s introduced a voice of reason into the conversation, and as with the Crossfire aftermath, we suspect we’ll be hearing echoes of it in interesting places.