Fearful of losing valuable media exposure, TheStreet.com stock guru and money manager James Cramer countersued FOX News Channel in pursuit of a declaration that his contract with the network is void.
The counterclaim was a response to FNC's suit three weeks ago, when Cramer and TheStreet.com declared they were canceling their weekly Saturday-morning FOX show, TheStreet.com. Earlier, Cramer, co-founder, director and major investor in the financial Web site, and other TheStreet.com executives had become disheartened when FNC parent News Corp. expressed no interest in backing more TV shows and international opportunities, and that may have spurred Cramer's action.
FNC's suit ostensibly wants TheStreet.com to continue producing the show under the existing contract. But what News Corp. executives really seek is to keep TheStreet.com from going to CNN or CNBC for another year and to keep Cramer, who is under a separate contract, from appearing on any other TV outlet until September 2002.
"Our position is that he is a free agent," said Eric Seiler, attorney for Cramer.
FOX executives disagree. "Perhaps Cramer's judgment is clouded at this time of great turmoil at this company," said an FNC spokesman. "He canceled the show and now claims that he doesn't have to perform because his show is canceled. Irrational."
This isn't a money fight for FOX. TheStreet.com's show was pulling a 0.2 cable Nielsen on Saturdays. But Cramer has a cult following with the right demos that made the show worth the bother.
Central to the dispute are Cramer's comments on an April 15 show about the battered price of TheStreet.com. Money managers appearing in media commonly talk about their positions, touting stocks in the portfolios they run for investors, and CEOs tout the companies they run. It's a major reason they go on the air.
But FNC executives were unhappy to have a commentator actually talking up a company that he helped manage and owned personally. And an FNC spokesman voiced that to the press.
Cramer claimed that the new "policy" seemed to apply to any stock in which he had a financial interest. So, since he gets paid in part by how well his hedge fund performs for his investors, he couldn't talk about any stock in the portfolio. So, Seiler contended, that made it "impossible" for him to continue.
Cramer's counterclaim seeks a declaratory judgment that he can work with other TV outlets. He noted that nobody stopped News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch from recently complaining about his own company's stock price on an FNC show.
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