Two weeks ago I could NOT have picked Jim Cramer out of a police lineup. As it turns out, he has been an on-air personality for CNBC since 1996. Who knew?

On March 3, 2009, his name finally penetrated my consciousness. That was the day the White House press secretary "called out" Cramer in response to his criticism of the President. The day before, Cramer had asserted that the recently announced budget represented a "radical agenda," and he held the President responsible for wanton "destruction of wealth."

Two days later, Cramer issued a manifesto of defiance, promising to lead an army of millions in revolt against the the President's policies.

A few days after that, Jon Stewart, host of the Daily Show, picked up the White House line of attack and castigated Cramer as a hypocritical menace and presented a series of examples of his erroneous predictions over the years. The next day I finally put a face to the name, as I came across a YouTube of Stewart's five-minute-plus comic excoriation of the Mad Money man.

Thursday night, March 12, Cramer appeared as a guest on Stewart's program, where the host lambasted him mercilessly for crimes against the economy. The Charge? According to Stewart, Jim Cramer and CNBC, the cable financial news channel that draws approximately 300,000 viewers a night, bears major culpability for failing to warn us sufficiently that the stock market was risky.

Friday the cable feud was above-the-fold news. I watched or listened to news stories reporting and reacting to the confrontation from three different sources (NPR, the Newshour, and the CBS Evening News).

Every one of those news-and-analysis segments offered a straightforward account of the dramatic televised duel between Stewart and Cramer (with video highlights), fully embracing and amplifying the premise that Stewart raised a salient point worth public discussion: how could the business reporters fail so grievously in their duty to protect the public good?

Seriously? Jim Cramer and his ilk are to blame for our current economic difficulties? Stewart is the king of irony, but doesn't anyone but me find it completely absurd that we should try to pin blame on some loudmouth, whom most of us had never even heard of two weeks ago, who appears on a cable network that captures an audience equivalent to less than .001 percent of the U.S. population?

Perhaps most troubling, not one of these mainstream news agencies connected Cramer's sudden national scrutiny and notoriety to his dispute with the President. What about some context? If you just tuned in today, you would have thought this story somehow spontaneously generated itself somewhere in the vast wasteland of cable TV. The reports offered no inkling that that the White House had initiated the counter-attack on Cramer.

No journalist asked the obvious questions: how much does this slug-fest have to do with Cramer's high-profile attack on the President? What role did the White House play in all this? Is Stewart a surrogate for the Obama administration?

Am I off-base? Are these NOT basic questions? What is going on here?

Welcome to the Surreal World.

UPDATE: unfortunately, add Howard Kurtz to the list of oblivious mainstreamers. The best he can do is say that online reaction tended to split along partisan lines and quote (but not link) Mark Hemmingway's excellent piece on NRO (linked here)--which everyone should read.