“I have always thought they were honest. That was my mistake.”

So said Jim Cramer on Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show last night. No it wasn’t. That was NOT his mistake. Not by a long shot. The mistake he made was to play the cable network financial market bullshit game in the first place. Once you have gone on TV (or, for that matter, started at the barbecue with your neighbors, or around the office coffee machine with your colleagues) and start predicting the highs and lows of the market, the prognosis of Bear Stearns stock, the direction of the economy, the impact of this or that government policy, you have already made the mistake. The mistake isn’t that you tried and got it wrong. The mistake is in believing you ever had a chance to be persistently, statistically significantly right in the first place. The mistake is in participating in a medium where instilling that belief is the fundamental premise of what you do.

It is a bitterly false premise to lead viewers to believe that, if they listen hard enough and well enough, they can beat the market. It is a bitterly false premise to lead viewers even to try. The humble fact is that the financial prosperity of 99.99% of all households in America depends solely on earning enough income, managing spending conservatively, and keeping savings in reasonable, market-adhering — not market-beating — investment vehicles. Dangling the lure of abnormally high investment returns is like distributing crack on the playground.

Networks such as CNBC are as unreliable for one’s financial health as astrologers are for one’s emotional well-being. Shame on the entire media spectrum for feeding us a steady diet of minute-by-minute market updates. Every action taken by every person based on that information has unknowable consequences. And shame on all of us for watching, and reading, and listening. Kudos to those who quietly and steadily put away some money each month, who invest it an age-appropriate mix of money market accounts, bank CDs, and a few bland, boring mutual funds.

Everytime we let ourselves be convinced that we can do better — whether by Jim Cramer or anyone else — all we are doing is waiting for “00” to come up on the roulette wheel. And you know what? It always does.

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