Monthly Archives: November 2010

What Rachel Maddow missed in her interview with Jon Stewart

Jon Stewart and Rachel Maddow spent the better part of their one hour interview discussing Stewart as a media and political figure and how his rally fit into that point. However, they were discussing two separate structures and failed, especially at a point in the conversation 40 minutes into the show, to connect their separate paradigms. However, the difference is simple.

Jon Stewart is a comedian who satirizes the news, in particular the 24-hour news cycle.

Rachel Maddow is a commentator who comments, sometimes with satire, about political conflict in America.

The primary difference between them, and why according to Jon they’re not on the same level, is that Jon’s focus is on the news process while Rachel’s focus is on the political process. However, Jon’s show is so overtly political in nature that it’s hard to separate his content from political content. Jon’s show, at least according to the argument he put forth in the interview, is only accidentally politically focused. He talks about politics because news stations talk about politics. Rachel, on the other hand, talks about politics because she’s a news person, and politics is news. Therefore, her show’s focus on politics is purposeful and limited, basically different from The Daily Show’s purpose.

Therefore, the “game” that Jon references isn’t the political game, to say that he could become a political force. He’s not particularly critical of politics in general. The positive influence he seems to regret not having is on the news process: he regrets that he can’t create a news station from scratch that focuses on conflicts in the country other than the political. Rachel, on the other hand, is part of a major news network and has, presumably, the leeway to use different rhetorical approaches on her show than has been seen in the past. Jon referenced Keith Olbermann as one of the first movers in MSNBC towards the left to take up the polarizing begun by Fox  News. And while MSNBC seems offended at the accusation that they’re trying to be to the left what Fox is to the right, the change that Jon wants to initiate is that MSNBC be something other than the left to Fox’s right: he’s essential asking Rachel and others to find something other than politics and a narrative other than left vs. right by witch to define their news programs. He, being a comedian that comments on the news rather than a journalist who comments on politics, cannot initiate that shift.

Essentially, Jon wants to remain a comedian who satirizes the news, but he wants journalists to grow beyond people who comment on politics. The new conflict Jon proposes is corruption vs. not-corruption, which he seems to think is the primary purpose of news in the first place. Is this the type of news set forward by sites like OpenCongress.org and sites dedicated to the open sharing of governmental data? I’m not sure that’s what he means, because that process would allow the focus to remain only on politics and the political divide. But at least it would make the political conversation a little more complex and thereby a little more realistic.

Perhaps if Jon set out in particular terms what he means by the axis of corruption vs. non-corruption, news stations could pick it up and run with it. He is clear, however, that he is not a news person; he is a comedian that comments on the news. Rachel would do well, in my opinion, to realize that she is not a news-commentator but a news commentator, not one who reacts to the news but one who relays news, and thereby is much more fundamental, as Jon Stewart recognizes, in setting the tone of our nation’s media than Jon, whatever his ratings and media prowess.

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Filed under Criticism, Journalism