I’m Not as Bad as Howie Kurtz Says

In his new book The Fortune Tellers, media critic Howard Kurtz examines the brokerage analysts, fund managers, and news outlets who distribute the information that makes the financial markets rise and fall, and finds many of them conflict-ridden, irresponsible, and glib (click here for an excerpt). In this exchange, James Cramer defends himself and his peers from Kurtz’s charges.    

Arrrrgghh!! (Excuse my language. I’m usually a mild-mannered guy.) You keep arguing that I have insensitively lumped you and every other journalist, talking head, and tipster into one great, huge, stinking blob of pointless punditry. In fact, I take great pains to chronicle who’s doing a solid job of reporting (CNBC’s David Faber, the Wall Street Journal’s Steve Lipin, and Bloomberg’s Christopher Byron, to take just three examples) and who often falls victim to hype and corporate spin.

Rumors? You want rumors? The Fortune Tellers is bursting with scrutiny of half-baked, quarter-baked, and never-in-the-oven rumors. Business Week reports on its Web site that Yahoo! is in talks to acquire Excite@Home—a report denied by both companies within hours. CNBC’s Sue Herera reports on “rumors in the market, unconfirmed of course, that there will be an upcoming Washington Post story about the Fed’s long-term concern about the effect of growing interest rates on the economy.” (There was no such story.) Dan Dorfman reports on JagNotes.com that Timberland stock is dropping because of an analyst’s negative comments—then admits two days later that “some short sellers” were spreading a “bogus story” about the clothing company. (Gee, who’d fall for that?) Even the savvy Ron Insana tells CNBC viewers of “a rumor that Microsoft would miss its quarterly [earnings] number,” while hastening to add that a top trader regarded the rumor as “nonsense.” Financial journalists insist they have no choice but to spew out market-moving rumors; I contend that these high-decibel reports are adding to the echo-chamber effect and slowly eroding the media’s credibility.

Still, let me pause here and give you your due. How many hedge-fund managers would let me in their offices? For a day, plenty (everyone wants publicity in this age of celebrity financiers). For a year and a half, with phone calls and e-mails day and night, candidly answering questions about their successes and failures, internal company warfare, battles with two cable networks, even family pressures? Zero. I made you essentially the same offer I gave Mike McCurry for my book Spin Cycle: Let me into your life and I’ll produce an honest, nuanced, warts-and-all portrait. I think I’ve held up my end.

Now, since you’re always after me to name names, Jim, what do you think of the hotshot analysts I write about—Henry Blodget, Ralph Acampora, and Mary Meeker? Are they worth the millions of dollars they’re paid, or are they part of what you describe as the “cesspool”?