Media: The Maddow/Stewart Interview Uncut

Rachel Maddow and John Stewart had a conversation Thursday night that was comparable to the sort of intelligent, respectful, uncontentious dialogue that was the staple of Bill Moyers's Journal (it wouldn't be a bad thing if the too-often-smug Maddow morphed into a philosopher-journalist along the lines of the greatly missed Moyers). For his part though, Stewart still doesn't get why the Left objected to his characterization at the Can't We All Just Get Along Rally of conservative and liberal as opposite sides of the same coin. He's probably right that it may be more effective rhetoric to describe George W. Bush, say, as engaging in criminal acts than it is to call him a criminal. But if Stewart's intention was, as he says, to turn down the heat of partisan debate in the media, he didn't get the job done.

This may be a product of bad analysis. Stewart misreads Fox News, for example, when he argues that the network isn’t a partisan organization. In fact, Fox is the marketing division of the Republican Party, speaking in the same voice as the Party of No in its opposition to anything proposed by the White House or the Democratic leadership in Congress no matter how closely those proposals hew to free market or other traditionally conservative ideological positions. There are interesting conservative arguments to be made in favor of communitarian approaches to issues like taxes, the environment, foreign policy, military spending, and so on, but you won't hear them articulated on Fox. A news network with a conservative ideological bent would find much to like in Barack Obama's pro-corporate approach to governing, for example, but not Fox (in 2008, you couldn't go to a Democratic rally without tripping over conservatives for Obama); Fox isn't interested in ideology, just politics, specifically in advancing the fortunes of the Republican Party.

In any event, the thoughtful and, more unusually, civil exchange between Maddow and Stewart was a pleasure to watch. Stewart may even be correct that Maddow's use of comedy to illustrate points on her show may be counter-productive. If last night's conversation is any example, her pleasant personality may be enough to get the audience to sit still for explications of complex or controversial ideas. She doesn't need schtick.

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