On a day when IBM's reportedly mulling a buyout of Sun Microsystems, Uncle Ben Bernanke decides to print another $300 billion or so, and Congress gets a chance to throw spitballs at the weasels at AIG, there are better things to do than mock NBC's Jeff Zucker as an empty suit.
But after reading the synopsis of Zucker's remarks Wednesday criticizing Jon Stewart for eviscerating the goofs who predominate on CNBC, it's not even fair. How can one resist?
I don't want to prejudice you (just yet) so here's how BusinessWeek reported the story:
Jeff Zucker, the chief executive of NBC Universal, is calling comedian Jon Stewart's attacks on business network CNBC "incredibly unfair." At a media conference Wednesday in New York, Zucker said "The Daily Show" host's recent rips on CNBC, its "Mad Money" host Jim Cramer and business media in general were "completely out of line."
Zucker went on to say that while "everyone wants to find a scapegoat," he defended the home team. The suggestion that the business media or CNBC was responsible for the economic meltdown, he said, was "absurd."
On the yuckster scale, that one is off the charts. I realize that Zucker can't come out in public and say, "Well, the truth is that Jim Cramer is a clueless clown" or that "Dennis Kneale doesn't have enough sense to tie his shoes, let alone offer financial advice." (The truth is that Zucker wouldn't find an awful lot of people jumping ugly if he did. Maybe one day.)
I monitor CNBC each day as part of my job. And after watching the channel's coverage nearly every day since the late 1990s, I can tell you that Zucker is full of malarkey. He claims that CNBC has "distinguished itself" in its coverage of the crisis and the economy over the last two years. Now that's a comedic touch that even Stewart would applaud.
Distinguished? The only personalities at CNBC who don't seem to be smoking the funny stuff before going on air are Mark Haynes, Steve Liesman, and David Faber. That's it. The rest of the forgettable bunch over there take dictation from Wall Street. Did CNBC cause the crash? Of course not. But the track record of empty-headed prognosticating and cynical sniping at anyone daring to take a more critical look at the economy speaks for itself. Until everything came unglued last fall, the economists Robert Shiller, who called the housing bubble, and Nouriel Roubini, who called the stock collapse, often served as pinatas for sundry CNBC cheerleaders trying to pump up the noise.
Stewart, who has had a lot of fun at CNBC's expense the last couple of weeks, obviously struck a nerve with his lampooning. The subject clearly wasn't to Zucker's liking, but the bigger question is why it takes a fake newsman to point out the channel's litany of screw-ups.
Instead of circling the wagons, Zucker and his management team should take a long look at the content CNBC puts out. A public skewering was long overdue, though I'm sure that CNBC will survive (and probably thrive) this episode. Will it improve? One can only hope. Meanwhile, this one is another asterisk in the lengthening bill of particulars against the quality of U.S. journalism. Note to the Zuck-meister: The fact that you don't get what Stewart's talking about is yet one more reason to worry about the future of the mainstream media.