Last night on MSNBC, Rachel Maddow interviewed Jon Stewart, host of the Daily Show on Comedy Central and organizer of the recent Rally to Restore Sanity in Washington. Stewart's rally was lauded by many, but it's been criticized by others -- most notably, those journalists and commentators from the "24-hour, political pundit perpetual panic conflictinator" known as cable news.
It was a fantastically civil exchange (not that I expected any different) and should be required viewing for all those who comprise the conflictinator: This is how you treat other people with respect, even when you disagree.
Stewart explains his thought process behind the Daily Show and how what he does differs from the work of journalists and commentators. He explains the reasoning for his criticism of cable news networks, and why he thinks the conflictinator arose and continues to grow. He takes a measured, even-handed approach to every question posed by Maddow, including those regarding former president George W. Bush and the practice of waterboarding.
I don't think Stewart was quietly calm simply because he was ill. (Poor guy had been ravaged by an intestinal bug.) I think he's genuinely interested in maintaining civility while taking an objective look at the failings of cable news -- and, frankly, the successes as well.
I was especially impressed by how he handled Maddow's defense of left-leaning organizations and commentators. I've seen the same defense from my left-leaning friends and fellow columnists: How can you possibly criticize the left when the transgressions of the right are so egregious? I really do understand that viewpoint, and to a degree I sympathize with it. But it's still a conversation-stopper, not a conversation-starter.
That's the gist of Stewart's point, I believe. Amplifying political differences and projecting conclusions gives us a distorted view of each other and our world. Commentators on both sides feed off those distortions, twisting our perceptions further. Everyone in news -- "on the field," to use Stewart's metaphor -- plays a role.
And if people are still miffed that Stewart didn't incorporate a call to action into his rally message, I can supply one. Turn off cable news and go read a book or take a walk or play with your kids. Life is too short for seething.
Image via Comedy Central