Here's a headline I bet you didn't expect to see at one of America's leading newspapers:
Don't Blame Jim Cramer
To be perfectly honest, I rarely agree with Richard Cohen, but on St. Patrick's Day 2009, the Washington Post columnist wrote truths virtually no mainstream media member has dared utter since the "Mad Money" host first left the Obama reservation:
What Jon Stewart needs is Jon Stewart. He could use a droll comedian to temper his ferocity and correct him when he's wrong, as he was about the financial media, particularly CNBC and its excitable analyst Jim Cramer. They didn't cover up the story of financial shenanigans. They didn't even know it existed.
For proof, I can offer some names. Let's start with Maurice "Hank" Greenberg, who was instrumental in building what is now probably the world's most reviled corporation, AIG. He resigned as chairman and CEO in 2005, but still it is logical to assume that few people knew more about the company than Greenberg. He kept much of his net worth in AIG stock. He's now lost much of that worth.
Or take Richard Fuld. He is the former chairman of Lehman Brothers, which, as we all know, is no more. He lost about $1 billion.
Or take Citigroup's former chairman, Sanford Weill. He lost about $500 million.
Or take all the good people at Bear Stearns, the company Cramer adored almost to the bitter end. They went down with their stock.
If these people kept their money in these companies -- financial and insurance giants they had built and knew from the inside -- how was even Jim Cramer to know these firms were essentially hollow?
Exactly. And, as I wrote Sunday, some of the leading investors in the country didn't get out of stocks before September's collapse. As such, pointing fingers at people like Cramer is absurd.
Yet, Cohen went one better, and really personalized this issue:
I give you one other name: Richard Cohen. He who writes this column had some of his (extremely) hard-earned retirement funds in AIG stock. This was because I was a cautious investor, and what could be safer than an insurance behemoth? Who knew that in faraway London, a division of AIG was fooling around in stuff that virtually cratered the whole company? Not my broker. Not me. Not even Greenberg.
Marvelously stated, and something that has been lost in all the scapegoating. In fact, much like AIG, many of the companies taken down by this crisis were Wall Street stalwarts NOBODY believed would ever disappear from America's financial landscape.
As a stockbroker friend of mine I've known for more than 20 years said to me last week, who would have ever thought owning Apple and Google would have been a safer play than investing in the preferred shares of conservative companies like Fannie Mae, Lehman Brothers, and Merrill Lynch?
Cohen's almost indisputable conclusion:
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.
Bravo, Richard. I'm glad someone on your side of the aisle had the nerve to speak the truth about this matter.