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Jim Cramer fires back at Jon Stewart amid debate over financial coverage

March 10, 2009 | 11:50 am

As the two television personalities exchanged retorts on the air this week, a broader debate is raging about whether the financial press did an adequate job covering Wall Street’s handling of the complex transactions that precipitated the current recession. CNBC, the most prominent business news network, has come in for a large share of criticism that the media failed to alert the public to the system’s precarious footing.

Stewart savaged the cable channel last week with an eight-minute segment that strung together some of the most bullish remarks made by the network’s anchors and pundits during the last two years.

“If I’d only followed CNBC’s advice, I’d have a million dollars today -– provided I’d started with a hundred million dollars,” Stewart quipped.

Cramer, a former hedge fund manager who hosts the popular 3 p.m. PST show “Mad Money,” played a recurring role in Stewart’s mash-up.

“Bear Stearns is fine!” he shouted in his trademark bellow in one clip, less than a week before the investment house went under. “Bear Stearns is not in trouble.”

CNBC has remained mum about Stewart's jibes. But Cramer broke the network's silence this week and defended himself.

In a column posted Monday on MainStreet.com, he complained that Stewart took his words out of context. He wasn’t talking about buying Bear Stearns stock, Cramer noted, but was reassuring a viewer that money held in Bear Stearns accounts was safe.

“The absurdity astounds me,” Cramer wrote of Stewart’s critique.

Stewart responded on Monday’s episode of “The Daily Show,” offering up a partial mea culpa.

“OK. I was wrong,” the comedian said. “He was simply saying that if Bear was your broker or if your money was at Bear, your money would not disappear. He was not addressing the value of holding Bear stock. So Jim Cramer, I apologize.

“You weren’t suggesting to buy Bear Stearns,” he added with a sly smile. “That was something that you did five days earlier.”

Stewart then aired a clip from March 6, 2008, in which Cramer roared, “I believe in the Bear franchise. You know what? At 69 bucks, I’m not giving up on the thing!”

Cramer fired back Tuesday during an appearance on the “Today” show.

“Oh, oh, a comedian is attacking me!” he said mockingly. “Wow! He runs a variety show!”

“Did I make a mistake?” Cramer added. “First of all, any time you recommend a stock and it goes down, you've made a mistake. Here's a shocker: Almost every stock is down! Any stock you recommended is bad. You know, Warren Buffett, I could run tapes from him, he would look like a complete fool.”

The “Mad Money” host noted that Stewart has not shown the clip of Cramer’s appearance on “Today” in October, when he caused a stir by saying people should immediately sell and get out of the market.

“That was 35 percent ago,” Cramer said. “Whatever he says, Bear Stearns this or that, that was a call that should have wrecked my career. And it would have, if the market had gone up. But I stuck my neck out and did it and saved a lot of people money.”

UPDATE: Apparently, that won't be the final word on this topic. According to a Comedy Central spokesman, Stewart plans to volley back at Cramer yet again on tonight's "Daily Show."

-- Matea Gold

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