November 14, 2010

Maddow vs. Stewart: They're Both Right

In the polarized climate of U.S. politics and media, it was nice to see such a calm and mostly reasonable interaction between Rachel Maddow and Jon Stewart when she interviewed him this week. I watch both of their shows on a semi-regular basis and think that both have made some important contributions to the discourse. In this particular interview, I did not agree entirely with everything either of them said, but I thought that both made enough valid points to provoke thought.

Rachel Maddow and Jon StewartThe most relevant source of disagreement between the two seems to be the false equivalency Stewart often highlights between Fox "News" and MSNBC. In the interview, he tried to play this down and acknowledged that he recognizes that Fox is biased in a different way. Still, this is not always clear from his show and certainly was not clear from his rally. Of course, he is right that Maddow is biased, and he effectively called her out on it. The false equivalency claim really was not resolved, at least not to my satisfaction.

Maddow's repeated insistence that she has to cover things that she finds funny was disappointing, and Stewart did a good job of pointing out that their shows should differ in this regard. Strangely, this point seemed lost on Maddow. But the lowest point in the interview for Maddow came when she had difficulty acknowledging that hers is supposed to be a serious news show, and as such, that she shouldn't be doing the same things she criticizes Fox "News" for doing. She kept comparing her show to Stewart, which really should not be the model of a legitimate news outfit.

Stewart's low point, which wasn't nearly as low or as disturbing to those of us who value fact-based news, concerned the debacle of his rally. He clearly recognizes that it was a failure but still seems reluctant to acknowledge that it was his failure. Of course some people are going to misinterpret his efforts, no matter what he does. But when virtually nobody gets it, I think we can safely conclude that the message was poorly delivered. He seemed a touch bitter about this, but I suppose that is understandable.

Criticism aside, it struck me that both Stewart and Maddow were insightful about the other. They both scored points by correctly characterizing the other's role. I hope they each took something away from the interview because I think it could be a positive learning experience for both of them.

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