Richard Cohen has an excellent piece in today's Washington Post in which he calls out Jon Stewart for scapegoating the financial media.
Cohen writes that "Stewart, too, rides the zeitgeist." This is right - Stewart presents himself as taking a brave stand but in reality is just presenting the conventional wisdom (with a humorous slant).
What Cohen does not acknowledge is that Stewart does play a role in articulating/crystallizing a critique that's out there (in "the zeigeist") but that other media figures have not been able to "tee up" for discussion.
Here's an excerpt from Cohen:
The role that Cramer and other financial journalists played was incidental. There was not much they could do, anyway. They do not have subpoena power. They cannot barge into AIG and demand to see the books, and even if they could, they would not have known what they were looking at. The financial instruments that Wall Street firms were both peddling and buying are the functional equivalent of particle physics. To this day, no one knows their true worth.
It does not take cable TV to make a bubble. CNBC played no role in the Tulip Bubble that peaked, as I recall, in 1637, or in the Great Depression of 1929-41. It is the zeitgeist that does this -- the psychological version of inertia: the belief that what's happening will continue to happen.
Stewart, too, rides the zeitgeist. The hunt is on for culprits and scapegoats, and Stewart has served up a cliche: the media. As with the war in Iraq, for which credulous media should take some responsibility, the sins are blown out of proportion. It would be one thing if Wall Street titans by the score were selling their company stock and the media were failing to report it, but when someone puts his money where his mouth is, you have to pay attention. The big shots believed.
Stewart plays a valuable role. He mocks authority, which is good, and he mocks those, such as the media, who take the word of authority as if, well, it's authoritative. But given the outsize reception to his cheap shot at business media, he ought to turn his wit inward: Mocker, mock thyself.