That's entertainment | Bleader

That's entertainment

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As you are surely aware, Jon Stewart got his pound of flesh from Jim Cramer last night. It's well worth watching, though not as devastating as Stephen Colbert's op-art masterpiece, and not nearly as chilling as this CNBC interview with Nouriel Roubini and Nassim Taleb, in which you can watch the insane shallowness of the network completely fall apart in front of your eyes. It gets good, by which I mean bad, about three minutes in. It's the point Stewart was trying to make, boiled down to its essence. It make me want to hide under the covers.

(Update: See also Dan Sinker, who was thinking what I'm thinking simultaneously.)

One of the points Stewart kept pressing is that Cramer, on his show, treats serious financial analysis as entertainment, which is why I'm disappointed that the interview itself is being treated as entertainment, as sport. "Stewart creamed him." "What had been touted as the 'week-long feud of the century' culminated in a dressing down of CNBC and Cramer by Stewart...."

I don't like being pedantic, but I don't see much other choice: this is just the flip side of the coin, the chariot race giving way to a lion feeding. Stewart's interview was invaluable, as political satire tends to be. But the interview is being treated as a watershed, for no other reason that I can discern besides the fact that it was conducted by a famous person on basic cable.

Every little bit counts, and I'm glad that Stewart is drawing people to the subject, but I'm sad that, in the stenographic coverage (stenographic coverage of embeddable videos!), it seems to end there. There is so much good information out there that your typical local columnist doesn't even need to be out on the front lines, but if you're writing about stuff in the media about the financial crisis anyway, there's no reason not to drill down into yet more profound coverage, to be a middleman between the information out there in the cloud and local, general audiences. Here's a quick guide.

* This American Life's financial episodes, parts 1, 2, and 3. They're all good, but Part 1 is a masterpiece, one of the greatest examples of explanatory journalism I've ever come across. The reporters tracked down people from the three groups that really caused the financial crisis--irresponsible borrowers, irresponsible lenders, and the Wall Street guys who leveraged that product--and asked them "why?" Keep in mind that the financial crisis came from many, many individual decisions: a person offers a loan to someone who shouldn't take it, the borrower takes it anyway, someone packages many of those into investment products, those products get traded, and so forth. This whole disaster, as big as it is, came from the madness of a crowd. It's worth knowing why the people in that crowd went mad.

And it should be repeated that this series has been wildly popular. Traffic!

* The Crisis of Credit Visualized. A nice two-part animation that helps if you learn visually, like I do.

* The Subprimer Comic. A pungent, potty-mouthed introduction.

* PBS Frontline, "Inside the Meltdown." A good Wall Street-centric view of what went on at the highest levels during the quick slide into the disaster.

* Essential blogs: Baseline Scenario, Brad DeLong, Bonddad, Billmon, Calculated Risk, Paul Krugman, Dean Baker, Robert Reich, Nouriel Roubini.

If you want to watch something good on CNBC, check out this interview with Nouriel Roubini.

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