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NEW YORK (Reuters) - NBC Universal Chief Executive Jeff Zucker fired back at comedian Jon Stewart on Wednesday, saying it was "unfair" and "absurd" for the funnyman to criticize CNBC and question its coverage of financial news.
"Everybody wants to find a scapegoat. That's human nature," Zucker said during a keynote address at a media industry conference. "But to suggest that the business media or CNBC was responsible for what is going on now is absurd."
"Just because someone who mocks authority says something doesn't make it so," Zucker said, describing the comedian's comments as "completely out of line."
Zucker's comments are the latest salvo in a war of words with Stewart, who hosts the mock news program "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" on the Comedy Central cable television network owned by Viacom Inc.
Stewart has blasted CNBC's reporting of the financial market meltdown, saying the channel was too cozy with corporate chiefs and key government officials.
The comedian has lobbed particularly harsh criticism at CNBC commentator Jim Cramer, and last week invited him for an appearance on the comedy show, where he hammered the guest for his coverage of Wall Street.
"Listen, you knew what the banks were doing, yet were touting it for months and months," Stewart said during his March 12 show. "The entire network was. Now to pretend that this was some sort of crazy, once-in-a-lifetime tsunami that nobody could have seen coming is disingenuous at best and criminal at worst."
Zucker, speaking at the McGraw-Hill Media Summit in New York on Wednesday, said that CNBC's reporters and commentators had done a "terrific" job and the network remained a "go-to" place for financial news.
"It's unfair to CNBC and to the business media in general," Zucker said. "I don't think you can blame what happened here on the business media."
Speaking later at the same event, Viacom Chief Executive Philippe Dauman defended Stewart, among the top stars of his company's Comedy Central network.
"He's very smart and has a connection with the zeitgeist," Dauman said when asked about he controversy. "Jon Stewart's one of the few people on air who spoke to what people were thinking out there."
Earlier, Zucker, whose NBC Universal also owns the NBC broadcast network, cable channels like Bravo and USA, theme parks and a film studio, among other businesses, said he felt the public was tired of hearing the media blamed for its coverage of financial news.
"Frankly, I already think you're seeing a backlash," he said.
Zucker also noted that the financial crisis has bolstered CNBC's audience ratings, and said he expected viewers to stick with the cable network even if the economy remains mired in recession.
"When there is a lot of red on the screen, historically people don't want to watch that," he said. "That is absolutely not the case this time. I don't think this is like those other times."
General Electric Co holds an 80 percent stake in NBC Universal, while France's Vivendi owns the other 20 percent.
Reporting by Paul Thomasch; Editing by Brian Moss and Tim Dobbyn