Rachel Maddow's interview with Jon Stewart on Thursday will doubtless be sliced and diced over the next 24 hours, but the MSNBC host made Stewart's point for him — unwittingly — in a way that had much more to do with style than substance.
Ultimately, "The Daily Show's" main criticism of the modern media — and cable news in particular — has to do with tone, excess and proportionality. And while the two conducted a very civil, thoughtful discussion, the mere fact that Maddow devoted the entire hour to the conversation — complete with a blackened set that looked like Charlie Rose's show — seemed excessive.
Is Stewart that big a "get?" Because MSNBC treated the interview like they had landed a genuine newsmaker. Stewart doesn't see himself that way — and pressed the case, repeatedly, that he doesn't think MSNBC should either.
Maddow's main beef seemed to be that Stewart has equated MSNBC's left-ward model with Fox News Channel's right-ward one. But he countered that with a very salient argument — that MSNBC wouldn't exist, in its current form, had the channel not found success made Keith Olbermann, then realized a whole primetime lineup of Olbermanns might be a way to make even more money. After all, it works for Fox.
As for criticizing MSNBC and CNN along with Fox News — who, as Stewart noted, occupies a special place in his heart for its willingness, as he has stated before, to doggedly pursue a "narrative" — Stewart basically said just because I agree with you about certain things doesn't mean I don't want you to do better in your role as a "news" network.
"We have a tendency to grant amnesty to people that we agree with, and to overly demonize people that we don't," he said.
Stewart also noted, rightly, that the 24-hour news cycle is "built for a very particular thing: 9/11. … You have to elevate the passion of everything else that happens, that might even be somewhat mundane," to justify that sort of urgent, around-the-clock treatment. "The language then has to become sharper, louder, to cut through more and more of the noise."
It was an intelligent interview — and good television.
But the full hour of Maddow's show? By itself, that says everything about the 24-hour nonstop conflictinator Stewart spoke of at his Rally to Restore Sanity that you need to know.