Wednesday, May 15, 2002

Jim Cramer

I've known Jim Cramer since I was 21 years old and I've always liked him. He may well be the hardest-working person I know. He is easily one of the smartest. He is driven like no one I have ever met; he literally flogs himself through the workday. He can, on the downswing, be extraordinarily difficult. But that's true of most non-medicated manic people. What saves Cramer is that he's manic and dynamic and, at heart, a good guy.

Cramer (no one ever calls him Jim or James, it's always Cramer) has published his account of being a hedge fund manager and the founder/guiding spirit of in the 1990s. It's a great read; perhaps the best book yet written about the Millenium Market. Cramer has recently emerged as a chat show host on CNBC. No surprise, he's good at it.

And people are sniping. Nicholas Maier, who worked for Cramer's hedge fund briefly, has published a book that accuses Cramer of trading for the fund on inside and non-public information. The book was published by Harper Collins, which is owned by Newscorp. The New York Post has used Maier's book as a stick with which to beat Cramer on its business pages. You can read Tuesday's version by clicking here. You can read today's version by clicking here. I'd connect you to all the others, but you get the idea. The New York Post is owned by Newscorp.

A couple of years ago, Fox News Channel Chairman Roger Ailes signed up Cramer (and the editorial team of to do a business chat show. By entering into a deal with Ailes to appear on the Fox News Channel, Cramer was banned from appearing on CNBC. Since no one (that he knew) watched him on Fox, he began scheming to get back on CNBC. This led to a nasty dispute between Ailes and Cramer. The bad blood lingers to this day. Fox News Channel is owned by Newscorp.

Cramer now alleges that the various moving pieces of Newscorp are conspiring to destroy his reputation. He's right that they all hate him. But the notion that you could organize these people to wage a coordinated campaign against anyone seems far-fetched. More likely they're attacking him for their own reasons. And by responding to their attacks, Cramer simply fuels their fire.

This will continue for a while. Then the lawyers will hammer out a deal in which the parties agree not to attack one another anymore, until the next time. In the meantime, NBC Chairman Robert Wright should re-think how he's using Cramer. It's fine to have him co-host a chat show, but it's a waste of his talent and energy.

MSNBC is a near disaster and poorly managed. Although it launched well before Fox News Channel and had much better "clearance" (on cable networks) for years, MSNBC now garners about one-third of FNC's audience. The company recently hired former New York Post editor Jerry Nachman to serve as an editorial guru to help turn things around. Nachman will be working with (and for) MSNBC chieftain Erik Sorenson.

I can tell you right now that this won't work out, because arrangements like this never do. You need one man or woman on a mission -- with complete authority -- to do a turnaround. And the one man out there who is smart enough and savvy enough to turn around MSNBC is Cramer. He'd be sensational at it because -- genetically -- he's a great tabloid news guy.

I doubt this will ever come to pass. But it sure would be fun. And it's a much better strategy for MSNBC than "America's Network" and Phil Donahue.