Foreclosure Crisis: How Much Blame Falls On The Media?

Posted by John Atlas on March 16, 2009

If you still have not watched The Daily Show, stop what you are doing and go on the Internet and watch last week’s clips of Jon Stewart’s show. He was engaged in a weeklong battle with CNBC and Jim Cramer. What Stewart did was amazing.

It started with a CNBC’s Rick Santelli’s populist rant against Obama for using our tax dollars to bail out neighbors who are in danger of foreclosure. Santelli, who reports from the floor of the Chicago Board of Trade, attacked Obama’s housing bailout plan because it will help homeowners refinance mortgages and avoid foreclosure.

Instead of attacking the banks, speculators, and politicians who supported the deregulation of the financial services industry that led this economic crisis, Santelli attacked families who are losing their homes. He became the hero to conservative commentators such as CNBC’s Larry Kudlow, and their frustrated followers, mostly conservative activists and angry white men. At the same time he helped turn the national debate against Obama’s plan.

Meanwhile, CNBC and the mainstream press remained silent regarding the accuracy of Santelli’s statement.

It took Jon Stewart, who combines the journalism of Edward R. Murrow, the reach of Walter Cronkite and the satire of Mort Sahl, to turn the tables. Last week, culminating with CNBC’s Jim Cramer as his guest, Stewart nailed it.

Showing clip after clip from last year’s CNBC’s shows, Stewart exposed CNBC’s “experts” urging viewers to buy stocks that would soon tumble, and its “journalists” glorifying the CEOs who we later found out lied and pushed Ponzi schemes.

Stewart showed Jim Cramer from his show, Mad Money, advising viewers that Bear Stearns was not in trouble — right before that heavily leveraged investment firm’s stock collapsed.

Stewart also played clips of Cramer — never shown on his CNBC show — talking about how Wall Street manipulates stocks and creates rumors that affect the price of stocks.

Although deadly serious, Stewart’s satire came through. Showing a clip of Cramer using a rolling-pin on a piecrust he was making with Martha Stewart on her TV show, the Stewart said, “Don’t you destroy enough dough on your own show?”

Stewart said:

“This thing was 10 years in the making … The idea that you could have on the guys from Bear Stearns and Merrill Lynch and guys that had leveraged 35 to 1 and then blame mortgage holders, that’s insane.”

But the amazing point is that at the end of the week, Stewart managed to do what no group or person has been able to do. He helped changed the national debate about the economic crisis away from the victims of the financial services industry — bus drivers, teachers, firefighters, the unemployed and focused our anger on the greedy speculators, bankers, as well as the financial experts, economists and politicians who caused the crisis. These unscrupulous people will continue to try and scapegoat unsophisticated homebuyers. We need to join Stewart and fight back.

About the author more »

John Atlas is president and one of the founders of NHI. Atlas is the author of Seeds of Change: The Story of ACORN, America's Most Controversial Antipoverty Community Organizing Group (Vanderbilt University Press, 2010), a story about one group’s efforts to reduce inequality. Atlas lives in Montclair, NJ, and is working on an upcoming theatrical documentary funded by the Sundance Institute, Tribeca Film Institute, and PBS.

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