Stewart, Cramer TV battle royal draws big audience

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - In the end, this was nothing to laugh about.

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The war of words between funnyman Jon Stewart and CNBC financial news commentator Jim Cramer drew a audience of 2.3 million to mock news program “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” Thursday night, the Comedy Central network said on Friday.

The audience size was second only to Stewart’s most-watched show this year, the episode on President Barack Obama’s inauguration day, which drew 2.6 million viewers, and it is one of the top 10 most-watched episodes in the program’s history.

A Comedy Central spokeswoman said the 2.3 million was 17 percent higher than the shows average audience, year-to-date in 2009, and 40 percent higher than a typical Thursday this year.

The recent showdown between Stewart and Cramer, host of the financial news network’s “Mad Money,” has been widely followed by the media because Stewart harshly criticized CNBC’s reporting of the financial market meltdown, saying it was too cozy with corporate chiefs and key government officials.

Stewart has singled out Cramer, who positions himself as a long-time Wall Street insider who dispenses knowledge that will help everyday people make complicated investment decisions.

For instance, Stewart has chided Cramer for touting investment bank Bear Stearns only days before the major Wall Street player was taken over by JPMorgan Chase & Co last year.

For his part, Cramer has fought back by appearing on talk shows and saying that he gave as many good tips as bad and that Stewart had only focused on his wrong moves.

Thursday, the two squared off on Stewart’s show with the host taking Cramer to task on why he and CNBC were not more skeptical of Wall Street executives, and didn’t ask harder questions that journalists should.

“The financial news industry is not just guilty of a sin of omission but a sin of commission,” Stewart said.

Cramer conceded that he had made mistakes but added that he and CNBC were not the only ones who had been fooled. “Everybody got it wrong. I got a lot of things wrong,” he said.

In the end, the two seemed to agree that the financial news media should refocus on asking hard questions of key corporate and government officials, and they shook hands.

Editing by Jill Serjeant