Jim Cramer, Erin Burnett, CNBC & General Electric – Their Contribution to Comparative Religion Discourse?

Editor’s Note: This purpose of this article is to explain why we took offense at remarks on CNBC and to lay out our opinion in detail. We contacted CNBC & GE last Friday and had one conversation each with them. We look forward to a more substantive conversation with them.

We have expressed our respect for the investment mind of Jim Cramer on a number of occasions on this Blog. We have written half dozen articles with Mr. Cramer’s name in the title. These have generally been positive. When Jon Stewart skewered Jim Cramer on the Daily Show, we wrote in support of Mr. Cramer because we felt the attack was somewhat unfair.

We recall a TV show in which a driver sideswipes a pedestrian on a dark, unlit night on an isolated road. The driver did not even know the pedestrian. On some dark impulse, the driver simply sideswiped the pedestrian because he could.

We felt like that pedestrian when we heard Jim Cramer gratuitously hit on a number of world’s religions by relegating them to “non-major” status. At minute 03:51 of the Stop Trading segment on Friday, October 22, anchor Erin Burnett said to Jim Cramer “the two religions right, the religion of Apple and..” Jim Cramer interrupted “there are 3 major religions”. Erin Burnett laughed and said “stock religion, investment religions”.

Watch the clip. Hopefully, you will see what we did, that there was no reason for Mr. Cramer to make that dismissive  comment about “non-major” religions. The segment was about Apple & Gold, not a discussion about comparative religion studies. 

There was a time when we would have simply ignored the comment. Not any more. We have come to believe that these cavalier, gratuitous comments reveal some nasty corner of the speaker’s soul. Society seems to agree and this sort of behavior is no longer permitted on TV. Recall, a few years ago, some one on TV could have made similar casually dismissive comments about people of an alternative lifestyle; a few decades ago, some one on TV would have made similar casually dismissive comments about people of another color.

But, these taboos do not apply to similar comments about religions from Asia. Mr. Cramer felt perfectly free to make casually dismissive comments about some of the world’s deeply respected religions and the show’s anchor Erin Burnett felt perfectly free to laugh at that comment. 

Mr. Cramer made this dismissive comment just before President Obama’s trip to India, Indonesia and Japan. President Obama is considering a visit to the Golden Temple in Amritsar, India, the holiest of Sikh shrines. India has the largest Hindu population, the second largest Muslim population and Buddhism was founded in India. Buddhism is the most popular religion in East Asia. Indonesia is the country of the largest Muslim population in the world. How thankful should we all be that Mr. Cramer does not work for the State Department or the White House?

Mr. Cramer did not specify which three religions were major in his view. We know about least 8 religions, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jain, Jewish, Muslim and Sikh. These are practiced in virtually every country in the world. If we get an opportunity to speak to Mr. Cramer, we would ask him:

  • Which are the 3 religions you consider as major? We assume your own religion counts as major.
  • You consider Christianity to be a major religion, don’t you? We assume you do.
  • Which is the 3rd major religion, Mr. Cramer?
  • What are your criteria for labeling a religion as “major”? Number of countries in which the religion is practiced? Number of Adherents of that religion?
  • Is it geography of origin of the religion or is it racial?

We offered to discuss our views with Mr. Cramer but received a terse, dismissive email in return. That’s when it struck us that this is really a CNBC problem.

The statement made by Cramer has been made before on CNBC without any serious repercussions on the anchor who made it. So perhaps Mr. Cramer could argue that CNBC de facto permits such statements or at least waives enforcement of any standards CNBC might have against such statements.

Pattern of Behavior of CNBC Anchors

Some time ago, a commodities expert made a utterly gratuitous derogatory comment about Buddhists when discussing the price of chicken feed with Ms. Rebecca Quick on CNBC Squawk Box. We were appalled and called the Brokerage Firm. They showed class and called us back with an apology from the speaker and on behalf of the firm. At that time, neither Ms. Quick nor CNBC cared to respond or return the call.

On August 13, 2009, Ms. Quick used the phrase “The World’s Three Major Religions”.  She meant Christianity, Islam & Judaism because, unlike Mr. Cramer, she added the description “Holy Land” or the Middle East. To their credit, CNBC PR understood the impact of this assertion by Ms. Quick and we believe they spoke with Ms. Quick. Since then, Ms. Quick has stayed out of religious discourse on her business show.

In October 2007, a CNBC Fast Money Trader made a gratuitous, derogatory comment about animal sacrifice in India during the Fast Money show. We brought this to the attention of two CEOs whose companies provided support to the show. We understand these executives were horrified at the comment made on Fast Money. They read the riot act to both CNBC and the Fast Money show. We received a call of apology from CNBC PR.

The worst incident in our experience was the conversation between Erin Burnett and Mark Haines about India’s “Sacred Cows” on May 16, 2008 .When told by Ms. Burnett that “the cow is sacred here”, Mr. Haines saidI would eat it any way“. Then he added Look, If I am hungry, if I am hungry, you don’t want to be a sacred cow walking down the street in front of me; I don’t care if you are a sacred cow

We were appalled and lodged a protest with the Senior Managements of CNBC, NBC and GE. Mr. Mark Haines showed both class and courage by calling us with a CNBC PR executive to apologize. We consider his involvement in this conversation a closed issue for us. CNBC also apologized for the offense taken by our readers and us.

But Ms. Erin Burnett has never bothered to address her involvement even though, as we see it, the conversation was choreographed by her. We asked to speak with her then to get clarification. We have reminded CNBC Management of this unfinished business with Ms. Burnett on a few different occasions. We do not know whether Ms. Burnett refuses to speak with us or whether CNBC refuses to allow Ms. Burnett to speak with us. 

We remembered all this when we watched Ms. Burnett laugh at Mr. Cramer’s comment about “three major religions” in the segment on Friday, October 22. Ironically, the day before Cramer’s comment, Ms. Burnett had devoted an entire segment on her show to the Halal controversy regarding Campbell Soup. In that segment, Ms. Burnett deplored the fact that 40% of Americans have an unfavorable view of Muslims.

We commend Ms. Burnett for her forthright stand on bias against Muslims. But we wonder, why she is never concerned about unfavorable comments about Hindus and Buddhists on her own network? Perhaps, she also feels that these are not major religions. Or perhaps, her own oft-proclaimed love for Arby’s roast beef makes her look down on Hindus who shun beef.

Enforcement of behavior standards by CNBC & General Electric

At the time of the “sacred cows” conversation, we expressed our deep concern to the managements of CNBC, NBC and GE. We described to them examples about the “sheer, gratuitous nature of the disparagement” towards Hindus, Buddhists and Indian culture on CNBC at & before that time. At that time, we had a couple of discussions with CNBC’s PR management.

After that, we did see a change at CNBC. Comments of a disparaging nature are far less common these days and we now see a different attitude when we watch CNBC.

But as some of the above incidents show, it seems hard for CNBC to enforce standards about religious intolerance and its policies about on-air behavior of its anchors. Mr. Cramer is a major rainmaker at CNBC and Brian Williams, the anchor of NBC Evening News, once described Mr. Cramer on air as a very important man at NBC. We guess it must be very difficult for CNBC to enforce its policies on Mr. Cramer.

This brings us to General Electric Management, the majority owner of CNBC. Whenever we have spoken with Mr. Immelt’s office, we have been treated politely and cordially. We hope our reaching out to Mr. Immelt has had a positive impact on CNBC and made them more tolerant & respectful. After all, GE has been a leader in building strong USA-India relations.

Today, GE is trying to win nuclear plant contracts from India. GE is also trying to lessen the standards imposed in India’s Nuclear Liability Bill. Frankly, this worries us.

If GE Management cannot enforce standards of behavior on a couple of CNBC anchors, why should anyone feel confident about their ability to enforce standards of behavior on executives at their nuclear plants? We suspect nuclear plant contracts are worth a lot more in revenues than say Jim Cramer’s Mad Money show.

We have no doubt that GE would enforce all standards in a European Nuclear plant just like we are convinced CNBC Anchors would never make derogatory statements about European religions. But would GE bring the same rigorous enforcement to nuclear plants in a country with “non-major” religions like India? We feel unsure of the answer.

We think this is an important topic and in the tradition of this Blog, we invite Mr. Cramer, Ms. Burnett, Ms. Quick, CNBC and GE to send us their comments or responses. We have no wish to be unfair to any of them. We will print their responses verbatim.

Send your feedback to editor@macroviewpoints.com

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