Video: Jon Stewart Schools Rachel Maddow on Comedy vs. News But Fails to See the Irony

In a rare interview yesterday, Jon Stewart from The Daily Show appeared as a guest on the Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC.

The entire interview was spent with Stewart and Maddow parsing words about the difference between comedy and news. Whereas Maddow kept asserting that she didn’t feel what the two of them do is so different, Jon Stewart had another take:

“I feel more of a kinship with Jerry Seinfeld,” Stewart said about the way he reports the news, “than with what you guys are doing.” Rachel Maddow said both of them go through fact checking, for instance, and Stewart retorted that because The Daily Show is mocking a news organization, they have to do some fact checking, but it’s not for the same purpose, it’s to line up the joke.

I’ve heard Jon Stewart make these distinctions before. Stewart as you may recall is credited for single-handedly taking down Tucker Carlson and CNN’s CROSSFIRE when he once appeared on the show and accused CNN and the show’s hosts of destroying America by injecting partisan politics into the mainstream.

On the Rachel Maddow Show yesterday, Stewart said the partisan divide that is Right vs. Left in our country shouldn’t even be the divide that the news is focused on: it should be “corruption vs. non-corruption” according to The Daily Show host.

Jon Stewart went on to explain that according to him, what Rachel Maddow and other news reporters are doing is like reporting on the weather, with a boots-on-the-ground perspective, while he and other satirists sit up high and discuss climate with more of a worldly perspective.

Here’s the irony Jon Stewart failed to see:

From the perspective of the audience, here’s what we see as the difference between real news and comedy news: The real news reports every story in 2 beats: First, the news itself. Then, some commentary. In the case of real news, the commentary is serious. In the case of The Daily Show or even SNL Weekend Update, here’s what we get at home: First, the news itself. Then, a joke about the news.

What Rachel Maddow kept trying and was failing to get across to Jon Stewart last night was, even if you make satirical or joking commentary about a news story, if the first part of your story contains actual, verifiable facts, and if your facts are fact-checked, then whether you make a joke about it afterwards, or whether you make more serious commentary about it, you’re still delivering the news.

And let’s not forget that Rolling Stone article from last year that showed a large portion of America’s youth gets the bulk of its news from Jon Stewart on The Daily Show. Stewart may have comments about this, and say that’s the reason our country is stupid and mostly pot smoking stoners who watch his show, but the fact remains he’s delivering news whether he jokes about it or not. And in his interview last night, he missed the irony.

Jon Stewart just fails to see the forest thru the trees here. That, or he is not as smart as he seems. Perhaps he is too deep in, to realize the irony: that as Jon Stewart talks about weather vs. climate, from our perspective at home he’s just parsing words and it sounds ridiculous.*

*Editorial Note: The ridiculous-sounding part is where Stewart denies he reports the news. However, what he says about left vs. right being the wrong focus of the mainstream news in America, and how the real focus ought to be corruption vs. non-corruption? Point well taken.

You can see the entire uncut video of Rachel Maddow’s Jon Stewart interview right here:

Dear Evan,

Thank you for your reply. Certainly, I am not surprised that news retention was greater for those who got their information from Stewart. Many studies of teaching methodologies confirm that students retain more if the subject is taught in an entertaining manner. But content also matters, and CNN has very little content these days.

Twenty years ago, TV journalists interviewed “experts” in whatever field the news of the moment was about. It was during the first Gulf “war” that I noticed Wolf Blitzer turn to a colleague and begin interviewing him. Certainly easier, more convenient, less time-consuming, and cheaper than finding a real expert to interview. Now, it is done all the time. If you want to hear experts there may still be a few weekend news programs that are not entirely filled by talking heads, but they have become rare. Only PBS continues to interview real experts.

The other thing is that back in the day when there was no 24-hour news cycle, respected TV journalists used to have hour-long programs on the weekend and would discuss a particular topic at length with an expert. Jon Stewart did a fantastic riff on how the current crop of so-called journalists would barely scratch the surface with their question(s), do no follow up if the respondent avoided the subject, then say, “Well, that’s all we have time for!”

Satire may be the best way to receive current news as it is so utterly depressing and getting worse in front of our eyes, with no end in sight.

I used to read the Naked Capitalism blog every day, and Yves Smith is wonderfully sarcastic, but I had to stop because two huge doses of depressing news per day (on the climate and on the financial world) were simply too much. We all have our limits.

I’ve seen people who literally seem to be addicted to FOX news. Lots of people are drinking that kool aid.

I watched a clip of Glenn Beck being interviewed by O’Reilly the other day. Beck started making comments that he thought were very clever and funny (but they weren’t) and laughing really hard at his own jokes. It struck me that he is not all that intelligent and really is off in his own world with no brakes. FOX is a machine that lies continuously.

But the main problem is that it is so easy for a large percentage of the U.S. population to simply shut down their brains and follow these charlatans like drones. And there is presently no way to stop this.

I think that Rep. Inglis had it right when he stated that this is all on the record for our grandchildren to see. (What he had wrong is that our children will be the ones who are going to be looking at these records and discovering just who it was that insisted on bringing calamity down upon them.)

Tenney, thank you for your thoughtful comment. I’m not really peeved at Jon Stewart.

When the Rolling Stone article came out with the results of a study asking first what the person’s primary source of news was, and then a series of questions about current news and politics, there were 2 surprising results of the study: First, a lot of younger Americans said their primary source of news was The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Secondly, these people scored better retention on questions about current news and politics than the ones who said their primary source of news was CNN.

I really don’t know if it’s a sad commentary on our times that we have to get our news from Jon Stewart. In fact, I understand why younger people trust Stewart more than most news pundits.

I used to watch CNN from morning until night. But CNN devolved into Constantly Negative News, and I lost trust in Wolf Blitzer and his lack of judgment about what was critical news I needed to hear.

I realized from the entire 24 hour news cycle, Jon Stewart managed to let me know everything in under 20 minutes that was truly critical knowledge about what happened the prior day.

The people who get their news from Jon Stewart are lucky to have him. He does his research. The thing is, the FOX brainwashing machine is so out of control that when Stewart speaks a politically-incorrect truth, he has to sell it as satire because that’s the only way it can be absorbed.

I don’t think Jon Stewart is really doing satire. I think he has a set of balls bigger than Arnold Schwarzenegger.

You’re right Tenny, it’s not the most important point that he denies his place in the political news landscape. I’m sure your daughter would be the first to say we’re lucky he’s around doing his thing, because Jon Stewart’s contribution to America’s sanity is truly invaluable.

Dear Evan,

Maybe Stewart had to intentionally miss the point. He said he went as far as he could. He’s not a newsman. It is, however, a sad commentary on our times that we have to get the news from him. CNN has devolved into pure fluff and partisan junk.

Stewart doesn’t want to cross the line into real news. However, I am sure he feels a responsibility to satirize the truth. That makes him different from most comedians — they can always just make stuff up. Stewart has differentiated himself from other comedians by choosing news and the way it is delivered (or not delivered) by the MSM as his material.

I think we have to give him huge kuddos for conceiving the rally and pulling it off. It was an astonishing and unique event. I think we’re awfully lucky to have him on the planet. What are the odds?

My daughter, Alais, went to the rally. She got a ride from southern Illinois and stayed with a primary school friend in the DC area. She is very much his audience, or rather she is certainly not the audience of ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, or CNN. She tolerates her mom watching PBS news. She said it was great, and from what she said, I can tell that she felt good to be surrounded by hundreds of thousands of rational people for a change.

I am very much behind his concerns about the widespread influence of corruption in our political processes. Fossil-fuel money rules.
Wall Street investment bank money rules. This is sooooo not good for the long-term future of our democracy.

Evan, maybe, whether or not Stewart gets the irony is not the most important point here.