17 Hours of News: 15 Too Many

Justin Fox gets it just right on the current flap between Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart and CNBC’s Jim Cramer:

Even with the best of intentions, you can’t be on the air live for 17 hours a day and only broadcast intelligent things. And CNBC’s intention is not to do good, but to get as many affluent people as possible to watch it for as long as possible. So despite the fact that it employs lots of smart people, and they’re not out to do evil, the bulk of what CNBC produces is worse-than-useless noise. Now the bulk of what the news media as whole (myself included) produce is probably noise, but it’s on cable TV news that mismatch between time on air and useful information imparted is most dramatic. Producing 17 hours of live TV a day takes flaws inherent in the way we do journalism here in the U.S. (for more on that, see Poniewozik’s take) and magnifies them 100-fold.

Cramer’s own trajectory makes this case pretty well. He was a newspaper journalist before he went on Wall Street, and in the 1990s he confined his market musings to paper (and then to pixels), and most of what he wrote was pretty smart. My introduction to him was his column in SmartMoney in the early 1990s, and I remember really liking it. He remains an engaging writer: Just check out his autobiographical New York magazine cover story from two years ago. But on CNBC he’s on air so much and is allowed such free rein that he ends up spouting a huge amount of nonsense. Too much even for Rick Santelli, whose silly housing rant a couple weeks ago is what sparked Stewart’s current obsession with CNBC: Santelli went on an anti-Cramer rant one day last year. I think the biggest weakness of TV star Cramer is that he’s unwilling to acknowledge that he’s become a loudmouth entertainer who shouldn’t be taken very seriously. If he had admitted such a thing to Stewart, the conversation would have been a lot less painful.

But the unavoidable truth here is that a large percentage of cable-TV news is really stupid. It can be useful and sometimes even smart when actual big news is happening—CNBC got almost every important bit of news first during the TARP drama in September and October. But when nothing big is going on the need to (a) fill airtime and (b) keep viewers watching leads to the production of hours and hours of mind-rotting junk.

The same is true to a lesser extent of print media and (goodness knows) blogs as well.   There’s exactly as many pages in the paper every weekday and not exactly the same amount of newsworthy material.  Newspapers can fill space with evergreens or by simply not chopping as much off the end of each story.  Bloggers can theoretically post less when “there’s nothing to write about,” but we often don’t.

But at least written media is edited.  Even bloggers, who famously have no editors, are are own editors.  While I sometimes write and publish things that I wouldn’t upon further reflection, at least the craft of writing causes some introspection.

Live television, by contrast, is stream of consciousness.  Good hosts are prepared by good staffs but that only takes you so far if you’re on the air for several hours straight.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. odograph says:

    As I’ve mentioned in other posts, advertisers are more sophisticated than that. They don’t just want eyeballs for hours. They want conversions, eyeballs made into sales.

    When a brokerage or a personal computer based trading system maker runs an ad, they want to see a blip in phone calls.

    CNBC has to be sophisticated enough to think about that conversion … which is why those fast paced and watchable shows have a drum-beat toward one thing … a trade.

    The important thing to remember is that the advertiser, and CNBC, make money whether your trade is right or wrong.

    And that is the real danger of 17×5 financial “journalism”. It is more (at least half) infomercial for trading.

  2. Eneils Bailey says:

    I have watched both, not a fan of either one.

    On his show, Cramer is funnier than Stewart than on his show.
    On his show, Stewart is taken by people more seriously than Cramer on his show.

    Maybe, they should do one show together.

  3. KVC says:

    Having attended college in the late 70’s, I recall there being a school of journalism in the Mass Communication Department. I believe more were taking the Mass-Com classes and not enough of the journalism classes. Thus, we have people who look good and sound good on TV, but have no clue of what they are saying. They quote someone else’s facts without checking facts. Because their point of view is more important than facts and they want that point of view to be correct, therefore, there is no need for facts. Couple that with the onset of 24 hour a day sensationalism news, where they need and use anything to hold your attention until the next tragedy or public figure making a worldly mistake that they can then use to hold your attention until the next…. Therefore, we have Cramer and Stewart driving headlines.
    What a waste of my day. If it was not for my wife, I would sell my TV.

  4. Eneils Bailey says:

    What a waste of my day.

    You got that right.

    If it was not for my wife, I would sell my TV.

    I got divorced about twenty years ago…still have the TV.
    Maybe, I did it all backwards, but I came to the conclusion I loved college and pro football more than I loved her.

  5. Grewgills says:

    The unedited interview was actually worse for Cramer than the one that appeared on the show. Stewart destroyed him.

    It is a sad state of affairs that probably the best interviewer on TV hosts a fake news show. I have not seen any other interviewer use clips of the interviewee nearly as effectively.

    I think the biggest weakness of TV star Cramer is that he’s unwilling to acknowledge that he’s become a loudmouth entertainer who shouldn’t be taken very seriously. If he had admitted such a thing to Stewart, the conversation would have been a lot less painful.

    He all but did that in the interview. At one point he said he would try to do his show without all of the sound effects and other nonsense. We’ll see if he sticks to it.

  6. Eneils Bailey says:

    It is a sad state of affairs that probably the best interviewer on TV hosts a fake news show.

    How twue, how twue, how twue…
    And it is also sad that millions of people lost money by watching a fake financial show.

  7. Bithead says:

    Let’s be honest. Jim Cramer is an incredible lightweight. So too, is Jon Stewart, but for whose antics this wouldn’t even be a discussion right now.

    First, Cramer. Anyone who touts as antibusiness a candidate as Obama has always been while making the pretense that he actually knows something about our business is run is going to be a hard sell at the off. At his inexplicable support of Ron Paul , and which are clearly dealing with the someone so detached from reality has to be totally unqualified for giving any advice on anything, much less financial and investment counseling.

    That he woke up, after the fact and verbally recognized on air that Obama wasn’t all that good for us, is clearly why Jim Cramer was suddenly a problem for Stewart. Given the recent White House linked attacks on Rush Limbaugh, it doesn’t seem outside the bounds of logic to ask whether not there was some Jim Carville prompting on this fiasco, as there was with Limbaugh.

    Stewart is being hailed as a hero in some quarters because he decided to go after Cramer. Funny, though, that the press which is supposedly not leftist didn’t bother asking these questions of people like Cramer, until such time as a comedy show did. Kinda tells you something about the state of our supposedly unbiased media.

    Mark Hemingway in his most recent column suggests that Kramer is to stock picking what the daily show is to TV news and that neither is to be taken seriously.

    He’s correct, of course. Think, though; Yet the left is been complaining for years that Limbaugh wasn’t to be taken seriously because he’s only a “entertainer” so how is it that we are suddenly taking Stewart seriously?

  8. andrew says:

    “On his show, Stewart is taken by people more seriously than Cramer on his show.”

    Nobody on television takes himself as seriously as Stewart, which is one of the many reasons why his show is so unwatchable. He’s a political pundit who uses his faux comedian status to just make stuff up. It’s easy to “win” an argument when you have no standards.

  9. Eneils Bailey says:

    “It’s easy to “win” an argument when you have no standards.”

    I agree.

    My comment was meant as a jab to Stewart and his “highly intelligent” audience.

  10. tom p says:

    Nobody on television takes himself as seriously as Stewart,

    Spoken like somebody who has never watched a complete episode of the Daily Show… How many times have I heard Stewart say, “Why am I the only one on TV doing this sh*t? I do a comedy show!” Stewart does not take himself serious, but when he is the only one willing to challenge people on TV… as GG said:

    It is a sad state of affairs that probably the best interviewer on TV hosts a fake news show.

    Did any of you see when he went on Crossfire? Called them out for the gutless weasels they were, and made them eat it… on their show.

    So too, is Jon Stewart, but for whose antics this wouldn’t even be a discussion right now.

    Obviously Bit, you weren’t paying attention. If Cramer had ignored Stewarts original spot on CNBC (and it was about CNBC) it would have gone over like a warm summer breeze (pleasant, but forgotten as soon as it is passed) But Cramer couldn’t let it lay. He felt the “need” to fight back… BIG MISTAKE. Stewart had a wealth of stupid things Cramer had said to mine from. If Cramer had let snoozing dogs lie,… but no, he kicked it, and Stewart was all too happy to kick it again, because he knew who that dog would bite. Don’t blame Stewart for Cramer’s stupidity. He has a comedy show to run.

    And give Cramer credit where credit is due. By the time he entered the colliseum, he knew the lions were hungry. He showed more balls than Santelli ever dreamed of having.

    Stewart is being hailed as a hero in some quarters because he decided to go after Cramer.

    HAHAHAHAAHAA! Bit, you really have no idea of what you are talking about. Stewart isn’t a hero (and has repeatedly said as much), he is just speaking the truth, and wants to know why nobody else has???? (which is the real point of this whole farce… which if you would ever actually watch his show, you would realize)

    Funny, though, that the press which is supposedly not leftist didn’t bother asking these questions of people like Cramer, until such time as a comedy show did. Kinda tells you something about the state of our supposedly unbiased media.

    Bit, considering your own well established bias concerning our “biased” media… THAT MAKES ABSOLUTELY NO SENSE… You wanna try again?

    As to the rest… I love people commenting on a show they admit they never watch… stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid….

  11. anjin-san says:

    Clearly Bithead has smoked out the vast leftist/comedian/Carville/media conspiracy.

  12. tom p says:

    Clearly Bithead has smoked out…

    Anjin, the only thing Bit has smoked out is… well, whatever he is smoking.

  13. Bithead says:

    Gee, guys… I don’t know how I can speak up against such substantive commentary.

    Anjin, I’ll give you this; you’re a better comedian than Stewart.

  14. andrew says:

    “Spoken like somebody who has never watched a complete episode of the Daily Show…”

    True, it’s simply too cringe worthy to make it through an entire episode.

    Tom, just like Stewart you take it very seriously. Do Jerry Seinfeld or Leslie Nielsen have to constantly remind people that they’re doing comedy? No, because they are doing comedy and everybody knows it. Stewart has to constantly say it so he doesn’t have to defend his lame pseudo-intellectual commentary.

  15. Joe R. says:

    Spoken like somebody who has never watched a complete episode of the Daily Show… How many times have I heard Stewart say, “Why am I the only one on TV doing this sh*t? I do a comedy show!”

    Spoken like someone who watches too much of the Daily Show. For reference.

    Yes, Stewart takes himself seriously, but admitting it would end his ability to do what he does. He couldn’t claim to be a comedy show anymore.

    If Stewart really wanted to challenge authority, he could do an expose on how Comedy Central isn’t always funny.

  16. anjin-san says:

    Anjin, I’ll give you this; you’re a better comedian than Stewart.

    Of course bit, you have every reason to sneer at Stewart. After all, you were what, a DJ a WSAD radio?

  17. anjin-san says:

    Yes, Stewart takes himself seriously

    Hmmm. Whats wrong with someone taking themselves seriously? Like Stewart or not, he is pretty successful & it is a bit small minded not to give him credit for getting to where he is. I think Hannity is a yutz, but I give him credit for making it to very near the top of a tough profession.

  18. odograph says:

    The best article I’ve seen on the Cramer/Stewart thing:

    Stewart/Cramer: Who’s This Song About?

    This is not about shallow comparisons between the two as individuals. It’s about the mass-communication for “traders.”

  19. andrew says:

    “Hmmm. Whats wrong with someone taking themselves seriously? Like Stewart or not, he is pretty successful & it is a bit small minded not to give him credit for getting to where he is. I think Hannity is a yutz, but I give him credit for making it to very near the top of a tough profession.”

    Exactly. Both are political pundits.

  20. Bithead says:

    HAHAHAHAAHAA! Bit, you really have no idea of what you are talking about. Stewart isn’t a hero

    Well, at least it’s clear you don’t know what I’m talking about. The issue of whether not he was a hero to you and the crowd you run with what appeared to have been answered negatively. Yet, that isn’t what I said, is it?

    As to the rest… I love people commenting on a show they admit they never watch…

    I wasn’t commenting on the show in general, I was commenting on that show in particular. I don’t watch and specifically because the man as a lightweight, always has been a lightweight, and I don’t feel like wasting my time. Speaking of which, c’ya.

  21. Bithead says:

    Of course bit, you have every reason to sneer at Stewart. After all, you were what, a DJ a WSAD radio?

    No, I have every reason to sneer at him because he’s an incredible lightweight. (Not an idle choice of words)

    Trouble is, he has an over inflated opinion of himself. After a number of years in the business I learned to recognize and deal with such people, you see. Which, I should note, is precisely why don’t take you seriously, either.

    Thus endeth the lesson.

  22. Eneils Bailey says:

    Did any of you see when he went on Crossfire? Called them out for the gutless weasels they were, and made them eat it… on their show.

    That might justify qualify him as the most honest comedian(not journalist) on “The Comedy Channel” while being interviewed on a fourth-rate Cable News Channel.
    I smell Pulitzer here,..no..,.stop,… whoa.. think I just farted…

  23. anjin-san says:

    No, I have every reason to sneer at him because he’s an incredible lightweight.

    Trouble is, he has an over inflated opinion of himself.

    Still having projection issues, eh bitsy?

  24. Eneils Bailey says:

    Did any of you see when he went on Crossfire?

    No, I did not.
    But I talked to one of the thirty-five people tuned in that day.
    She thought she was watching the “Cooking Channel” and f**cked-up a batch of brownies.

  25. tom p says:

    Gee, guys… I don’t know how I can speak up against such substantive commentary.

    Well bit, you can always try shutting up… nahhhh, that would make too much sense, because:

    I wasn’t commenting on the show in general, I was commenting on that show in particular. I don’t watch…

    Bit, you should stop right there, just stop. You, self-admittedly, don’t know what you are talking about, so just STFU.

    No, I have every reason to sneer at him because he’s an incredible lightweight. (Not an idle choice of words)

    “Hello Kettle! I’m Pot. You’re Black!” Bit, nothing you have ever said, was anything other than an idle fart.

    Look guys, JS is not for everyone, I understand that, so I can understand why some would not watch, but if you don’t watch… you don’t know what the F you are talking about.

    Did any of you see when he went on Crossfire?

    No, I did not.
    But I talked to one of the thirty-five people tuned in that day.

    EB: I expect better of you than this. I was not one of the “35” people watching that day (I don’t have TV)(which allows me to miss all the tripe) but here is a suggestion: google “John Stewart/Crossfire”, it will come up….

    Watch it. You may not like what you hear, but you WILL learn why people like me don’t have TV anymore… and why people like you shouldn’t either.

  26. tom p says:

    Which, I should note, is precisely why (I) don’t take you seriously, either.

    One more thing Bit, your hubris is exactly why nothing you say should ever be taken seriously. Your ego knows no bounds, especially when it is bound by ignorance.

  27. Bithead says:

    Bit, you should stop right there, just stop. You, self-admittedly, don’t know what you are talking about, so just STFU.

    OK, I did manage to see one or two of the shows when the thing first started. Based on that, I’ve not been back.

    And if not partaking of the show means that you don’t understand and therefore you do not have any call to make an opinion on it, let me ask; you’re not a conservative, and yet you claim to have this intimate understanding of what it is I’m thinking. What’s up with that?

    I don’t have TV

    Aha… truth will out. So, by your lights, you don’t know what yo’re talking about, either, eh? Cute.

  28. anjin-san says:

    OK, I did manage to see one or two of the shows when the thing first started. Based on that, I’ve not been back.

    Brilliant plan. Because nothing EVER improves with time, eh?

    The first season of Star Trek TNG was really pretty crappy. I only watched because it was, well, Star Trek. By the second season they worked the bugs out and the show was somewhere between good and brilliant from then on out.

    But I guess bit never watched again after Q unfroze Tasha Yar.

    For that matter, the first season of Sienfeld was pretty weak.

    And based on the whopping sample of 2 early episodes, ‘ol bit concludes Stewart IS lame. Real rocket scientist that bitsy. Pretty clear who the lightweight is here, and it ain’t Stewart.

  29. Bithead says:

    Brilliant plan. Because nothing EVER improves with time, eh?

    Not if we’re to take you as an example, no.

  30. anjin-san says:

    Not if we’re to take you as an example, no.

    Well you do have a point there, after all, I have been responding to you for years, which suggests that I need to get out more often 🙂