Is Jon Stewart America's most trusted financial voice?

On Tuesday, Jim Cramer appeared on MSNBC's Morning Joe and NBC's Today Show to respond to Jon Stewart's latest attacks. This follows an increasingly heated exchange between the two, which Stewart has titled "Cramer vs. Not Cramer: Basic Cable Personality Clash Skirmish '09." Cramer's response to Stewart has largely relied on belittling comments, notably that Stewart is merely "a comedian," and his program is "a variety show."

Responding to the Today segment, Stewart stated that "The Today Show forced me to watch him watching me. It put a human face on my mocking. It gave me a sense of the damage that I had done to a real person. Do I need to see that? It would be like him having to watch me as his Bear Stearns advice wiped out my parents' 401(K)."

Embedded video from CNN Video

The really funny thing is that Stewart stopped being a simple comedian years ago. In 2007, the Pew Research Center conducted a survey to discover the most admired journalist in the media. Fourth place ended up being a tie between Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw, Brian Williams, Anderson Cooper, and Jon Stewart. While the inclusion of Stewart on the list immediately led to a raft of hair-pulling and teeth gnashing, a surprising number of analysts completely missed the point: rather than wonder how Stewart ended up in fourth place, they probably should have been asking why he ranked below Bill O'Reilly and (a pre-Palin) Katie Couric.

Three years before the Pew poll, Jon Stewart appeared on Crossfire, ostensibly as a comedic guest. However, in his 14-minute excoriation of the show's hosts, he laid the groundwork for his subsequent rise to media respectability. Criticizing Tucker Carlson and Paul Begala for "hurting America," he argued that political discourse, as constructed on most news shows, was overly simplistic, excessively confrontational, and exceedingly damaging.

By attacking the mainstream media, Stewart positioned himself as an everyman, located outside the spin zone. In the ensuing years, he has sharpened this technique, using his show to criticize partisan politics and hypocrisy. While it would be inaccurate to suggest that President Obama's post-partisan stance is an outgrowth of The Daily Show, there is no doubt that Obama and Stewart have tapped into the same vein of weariness and distrust. It is no accident that Obama, like pretty much every other Presidential candidate, appeared on Stewart's program.

As the American people have developed a newfound interest in the economy and the furor of the last election has died down, Stewart has shifted his focus from the political media to the economic media. In this realm, the largest target is probably CNBC.

It's a pretty fat target. The channel's best-known performer, Jim Cramer, enjoys a reputation as a seasoned financial analyst, yet employs sound effects, frenzied screaming, and other daytime-radio tricks. Similarly, populist hero Rick Santelli's rabble-rousing style lands him somewhere between Sam Kinison and Huey Long, while Larry Kudlow seems to rely on his ability to be abrasively, almost ignorantly partisan. In recent news, the channel is apparently planning the return of Ron Insana, suggesting that its motto might well be "Those who can, do. Those who can't, bloviate for CNBC."

In his ongoing series, "Clusterf*** to the Poor House," Stewart has spent the last few months addressing the collection of poor decisions, partisan hackery, and blame shifting that have characterized the country's current slide into recession. As he has noted, CNBC has certainly made use of the financial crisis, proffering analysis that was often high-handed, even as it was stunningly inaccurate. Following his Crossfire technique, he has even taken his attacks off the show, commenting on Letterman that CNBC's response to the financial crisis has been painfully clueless: "It would be like turning on the Weather Channel in a hurricane and they're just doing this: 'Why am I wet?!? What's happening to me? Why is it so windy? I'm scared!'"

As Tucker Carlson learned to his chagrin, when Stewart attacks, it's probably best to sit back and listen. Back in 2004, when Stewart appeared on Crossfire, he was primarily known as a comedian, a point that Carlson made. Stewart's response was blunt: "What you do is not honest. What you do is partisan hackery [...] You have a responsibility to the public discourse, and you fail miserably."

Ignoring the lessons of history, Cramer also belittled Stewart, arguing that the host took his economic predictions of context. Stewart responded by presenting longer, more in-depth clips of Cramer endorsing Bear Stearns.

Stewart has offered CNBC's commentators the opportunity to appear on the show. Rick Santelli canceled an appearance, claiming that Stewart seemed (according to DealBreaker) "bizarrely obsessed" with him. Meanwhile, Cramer is scheduled for Thursday. We wait with bated breath to see the next step in this saga!

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