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About (Late) Last Night: Rachel Maddow and Jon Stewart talk in smart, still dizzying circles [video]

"You're in the game," Jon Stewart told Rachel Maddow last night on her show, capping off an extended conversation,  which jumped from waterboarding to tea-bagging and beyond above a constant current of media criticism. "You're in the game too," Maddow replied. "We're in the same game."

"You're on the playing field, and I'm in the stands yelling things," Stewart explained. Maddow wasn't having it. "Everyone sees you as on the playing field too," she offered. It was the underlying disagreement around which a flurry of other topics swirled, but it was not an acute enough case of navel-gazing to render the entire discussion unwatchable. In fact, it was unexpectedly riveting television, assuming you have positive feelings toward one or both hosts. 

Stewart, obviously ill, looked pallid and spoke softly, putting Maddow in a somewhat downcast mood to match, and their calm collective tone lent a seriousness to the talk. The severe black background probably helped as well. For more than 40 minutes, the pair spoke on what could be perceived as minutiae, low on sound bites and talking points, burrowing deeper and deeper into a liberal rabbit hole of endless questions and few, if any, answers.

Maddow pushed Stewart on the matter of alleging equivalency between the right and the left, especially with regards to cable news. According to Stewart, Maddow calling President George W. Bush a "war criminal" is too "incendiary" of a charge, even if it is "technically true." Stewart said that "feels like a conversation stopper, not a conversation starter."

Stewart insisted that he was criticizing tone, not content, in most instances. The media's job, he said, is to highlight conflict between two sides. "Both sides have their way of shutting down debate, and the news networks have allowed these two sides to become the fight in the country," Stewart said. "I think the fight in the country is corruption versus not corruption."

When it came to comparing their shows, Stewart rejected labeling "The Daily Show" as "fake news."

"Fake is wrong," he said. "It is a misnomer that we use, and it's glib. We're not news anything. We're commenting on the news, comedically," he said. Maddow said she believes people's perceptions of their shows are similar, regardless of Stewart's intent.

As the interviewer, Maddow never once raised her voice to speak over Stewart. The "Daily Show" host, in turn, relied on calm logic as his most valuable rhetorical skill. "I love the voices that I hear on MSNBC," Stewart said. "But I am a climate scientist."

"The problem with the 24-hour news cycle is it's built for a very particular thing -- 9/11," Stewart said. "Other than that, there really isn't 24 hours of stuff to talk about." In turn, "you have to elevate the passion of everything else that happens," he said.

"I feel more of a kinship to Jerry Seinfeld than to what you guys do," Stewart said. "He is able to comedically articulate an intangible for people."

"Does that make sense?" Stewart asked, again reinforcing how much mutual respect was in the room. "I don't care where it comes from. If it's right, it's right," he said. There, Maddow agreed.

The entire discussion was wonky, often convoluted and entirely unlike typical talks on cable news. It was a dinner party discourse, sans alcohol, performed by two professionals with minor ideological differences but a willingness to use a magnifying glass for intellectual gain. The oscillation between media criticism and political discussion was often dizzying and, at times, insightful. The snake nibbled at its own tail. Still, anyone calling for more civilized debate in our political and media processes could hold up Maddow and Stewart as exemplary. It's a shame it too often only works among friends.

-- Joe Coscarelli

Comments () | Archives (13)

Watched the show with Jon Stewart and came away thinking it was a waste of my time to sit and watch and not understand half of what he said - some of it made no sense to me and I was wondering what he was talking about. It seemed to me that he got asked a question, did not really answer it and went off on a tangent somewhere and Rachel tried to follow it but will little success. I watch Jon's show sometimes and I think he should do his own show and not venture out of his comfortable surroundings.

The interview was OUTSTANDING.

If I had one complaint about the content of the interview, it is this. Jon Stewart cannot in one breath claim that the issue is corruption vs non-corruption and then dismiss, as incendiary or as non-constructive, the idea of the last President and/or his Administration being responsible for war crimes.

One of the thing that this inteview made me think about is the role of Jon Stewart and the Daily Show. At what point does it matter that Mr. Stewart thinks that he's in the stands shouting when the people that watch his show think he's on the field? If most people my age (I am 34) get their "news" from Mr. Stewart, does it matter that Mr. Stewart doesn't consider himself a source of news but instead someone who's commenting on it? Does Mr. Stewart need to do more to demonstrate to his audience that he should not be taken as a source of information?

It was a really interesting conversation and a pleasure to watch two people disagree on tv without shouting each other down. I felt like Stewart was hairsplitting at moments for the sake of his broader point, but he still had some good points, particularly the one about certain labels being conversation stoppers instead of starters.

Ultimately, I thought Maddow was right about Stewart's role in "the game" and her (and MSNBC's) role vis a vis Fox. Wish this type of on-air conversation were the norm rather than the exception (which is, of course, one of Stewart's primary points). A win for both of 'em, IMO.

Exceptional television, even though it posed far more questions than it answered. I think it is true that rising in the consciousness of a lot of people is how can we move forward and bring about something better without a partisan war, take no prisoners. I think this question is very well presented, by coincidence, in today's (11-12-2010) Op Ed section of the NY Times in David Brook's editorial. Definitely worth the read and it seems to grow out of what Stewart was trying to accomplish at his rally in Washington.

As for Maddow, I think this is one of the finest interviews she ever conducted because she had no preconceived point of view of her own and was truly being as much a listener as a speaker.

I was disappointed in Stewart. Does he think he is better than Keith and Rachel? He is not.

To the last comment - "I was disappointed in Stewart. Does he think he is better than Keith and Rachel? He is not." - I would ask that poster, politely, to listen again.

Not only is Stewart incredibly humble, and (the comedians greatest tool) self-deprecating, but he is incredibly sincere when he says, "there is no honor in what I do." He lauds Keith Olberman and Rachel Maddow as players in the game, who have enough courage, "skin in the game," to expose themselves to criticism and still keep their convictions.

I think he is being honest, and incredibly respectful of their talent, when he says it is a weakness, or lesser role, to be the "guy yelling in the stands." John is a baseball fan, he knows all about the braggarts and blowhards and (to mix metaphors) Monday morning-quarterbacking, that "those" guys share with him, because they have neither the responsibility nor the guts to do what the guys on/in the field do.

I think he understands and articulates that perfectly.

Stewart is such a self serving airhead.

I think Stewart rambled because he was trying to nicely point out to Maddow that she and her stations anchors spew hate and contempt every night. She of course doesnt think they do. She tried very hard to get him to saymsnbc is better than fox and to trash George Bush. The left blogs now hate Stewart because he didnt fall in line with Maddow.
I tuned into Maddow tonite long enough to see her do her usual stunts she does every night,so she really heard nothing he said. Her avid Bush comments last night proved what he said over and over and over and still into her show tonite she doesnt get it

We were not very happy with Jon's comments. On a weekly basis we watch your show, Ed, Lawrence, Chris and Keith. The right has all sorts of vehicles to share their voices, such as Beck,Ruch, Hannity, Huckabee, Wallace and many others that tend to give approval to those issues that are racist, and/or that help their cause to make the rich richer. They tend to only give one side of the news or a situation. You guys have voiced some of the harsh concerns about our president same as we have, as if you guys were speaking for us little guys. So, we greatly appreciate your shows, as it seem it is the only voice out there for us little people. We must admit that we watch Jon's show on a nightly basis as well, but have some questions about where he is coming from. We did not appreciate him attacking your shows - still don't know where he is coming from, but we will continue to listen to him to give him the benefit of the situation. We take our hats off to Rachel for her courage to stand up to Jon.

In my opinion, Jon Stewart IS the kid sitting in the bleachers poking fun at people/situations; he IS a comedian; he's NOT in the game so he does have more leeway than Rachel.

In a way the situation reminds of Dylan in the early years. He kept saying he was just a poet/songwriter, not a prophet or leader of any movement, but many people didn't want to accept that; they projected onto him what they WANTED him to be. They just wouldn't accept what he said. And when he turned out to be just what he said (a poet, songwriter and not a leader of any movement) they became angry with him.

Seems that many liberals or progressives really wanted Jon to come out very strongly in support of the left, really bash the right, and his refusal to do so angered many people. He has no obligation to the masses to be ANY kind of leader or spokesperson for any cause. He is simply a comedian (something has said repeatedly) and (I believe) a decent, thoughtful man. I know for a fact that he does lots of charity work that doesn't get reported because that's just not his style. If one doesn't like him, then don't watch. He is what he is and he can't be all the various things some people want him to be.

I thought it was a great interview. I love both Rachel and Jon.

It was a thoughtful discussion among two smart, media savvy people but I actually found it to be a pretty devastating critique of Maddow and some of her fellow colleagues on MSNBC. They think they are different from Fox because their principles are more high minded and they are helping to combat the right's very effective, often low minded attack machine. And there are differences. But Jon is right not to let the left off the hook and point out that the media outlets on both sides are all too often guilty of advancing a super-partisan, uncompromising narrative and focusing on trivial issues. There should be room for these overheated, opinionated shows but it seems the media corporations think that's all they should serve up.

It's hard for anyone to take a look in the mirror, especially someone like Maddow. It was clear how clueless she really is by not being able to admit, even slightly, that she is part of the problem with cable news. I disagree with Stewart on one thing, they are part of the same game, entertainment. Once you admit that all 24 hour cable news shows are entertainment, and NOT REAL NEWS, they become more tolerable and enjoyable. My point is: Rachel Maddow is not funny at all, but her show makes me laugh.

Rachel Maddow is a journalist, albeit with some bias which anyone watching MSNBC Olberman/ Maddow already knows (just as anyone watching Faux...er... FoxNews knows that there's a definite, heck, major slant).
Jon Stewart, as he himself continues to state, is a COMEDIAN. "The Daily Show" is SATIRE.
That many, myself included, prefer to get our NEWS from The Daily Show says more about the lack of objectivity and, in some cases (not Rachel's, as far as I'm concerned), absence of integrity in the so-called "news" programs.
Bias is bias whether it's coming from the right or the left.
Journalism used to be (as much as possible) about objectivity; the journalist was the eyes and ears for the people who couldn't be there, witnessing the story.
I continue to be surprised that so many people see "The Daily Show" as anything other than wickedly funny, highly intelligent SATIRE.


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