Guest: Jon Stewart
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Ladies and gentlemen, the Jon Stewart interview
in which Mr. Stewart gives a lengthy and what is in my view mostly but entirely fair critique of cable news, as improperly elevating partisan distinctions between us as Americans.
In which Mr. Stewart describes what he sees as different rules for what he does as a satirist and for what we on cable news do—and I frankly don‘t buy it, not at all, not even for a minute.
In which Mr. Stewart gives a defense of George W. Bush on the Iraq War and waterboarding—a defense which I don‘t really agree with but I think was interesting to hear and which I think was very well put.
In which Jon Stewart—Jon Stewart does not throw up—despite having a really acute, horrible stomach thing, the poor guy.
The Jon Stewart interview is right here.
MADDOW: Jon Stewart, thank you for coming in. I know you‘re under the weather. It‘s nice of you to come in.
JON STEWART, HOST, “THE DAILY SHOW”: I have the baboons. But I‘m happy to be here. I‘m here to take the medicine.
MADDOW: You are here as the 24-hour-political-pundit-perpetual-panic-conflictanator.
STEWART: Yes. Conflictanator, by the way, is a reference to “Phineas and Ferb,” the cartoon.
STEWART: The evil Doofenshmirtz—Dr. Doofenshmirtz. My kids are watching it. And everything he makes is an anator—conflictanator.
MADDOW: You don‘t do all that many interviews. I think I‘ve done—
I think I‘ve read every one that you‘ve done in the last couple of years because I tend to over-prepare.
MADDOW: Why did you—why did you want to talk to me? Why did you want to—
STEWART: After the rally it—you know, whenever you go out there, whatever you put out, you can only control your intention. You can‘t control its perception or how people receive it. And you can control your execution.
So, when people are perceiving it as something—people that I respect are perceiving as something that—we didn‘t perceive it as sort of either two or three things, one is we were inartful in the way that we conceived it and presented it, our intention was wrong or off, not clear. Or it‘s being misperceived. So, I guess, it‘s—there‘s probably a fourth. I don‘t know what that would be.
MADDOW: On the issue of the perception of the rally in media, Bill Maher said—Bill Maher‘s criticism of it was this. He said, “When Jon announced his rally, he said that the national conversation is dominated by people on the right who believe Obama is a socialist and people on the left who believe 9/11 was an inside job. But I can‘t name any Democrat leaders who think 9/11 was an inside job.”
MADDOW: “Republicans leaders who think Obama is a socialist, it‘s all of them.”
STEWART: Yes. I mean, that‘s a paraphrase of what we said. Again, that‘s probably inartful. We didn‘t say 9/11 was an inside job. What we said was he was a Marxist on the left and that Bush went to Iraq. I can‘t even remember exactly what—
MADDOW: Bush is Hitler and Obama‘s Hitler.
STEWART: No. But it was more about that 9/11 was a chance for Halliburton to get their hands on oil contracts. So, it‘s—again, I take his point. It‘s a fair point. But I don‘t—that‘s not exactly what we said. And it‘s certainly not I think—that‘s not the seminal thrust of what we were saying.
Again, the intention was not to say that that‘s people on the left and that‘s people on the right. The intention is to say that we‘ve all bought into—the conflict on this country is left and right, liberal/conservative, red/blue. All the news networks have been bought into that.
CNN sort of started it. They have this idea that, you know, the fight in Washington is Republicans and Democrats. So, why don‘t we isolate that and we‘ll stand back here? And that‘s—you know, Democrats and Republicans will go at it. Red and blue staters will go at it.
And what it does it is amplifies a division that I actually don‘t think is the right fight. But if what you‘re asking me is: do I believe that? What he‘s saying, that‘s what I believe? No.
But what I do believe is: both sides have their way of shutting down debate. And the news networks have allowed these two sides to become the fight in the country. And I think the fight in the country is corruption versus not corruption, extremists versus regulars. Do you understand what I‘m saying?
MADDOW: What‘s—yes. But what‘s the lefty way of shutting down? I mean, I—
STEWART: OK. You‘ve said Bush is a war criminal. Now, that may be technically true. In my world, war criminal is Pol Pot or the Nuremberg trials. It‘s not saying—
MADDOW: Or Harry Truman but then you took that back.
STEWART: Yes. And I did for good reason, because I don‘t think he was. And I think that—you know, again, we have to define our terms. But I think that‘s such an incendiary charge that when you put it in the conversation as—well, technically he is. That may be right. But it feels like a conversation stopper, not a conversation starter.
The complaint was, in the clip reel, we had a woman shouting as an example of dialogue that we were talking about not being helpful. A woman at a meeting shouting Bush is a war criminal. That‘s really where that came from, not from saying it in normal conversation.
STEWART: We were talking about tone there, not content necessarily. We were talking about standing up in the middle of a meeting and just shouting that.
STEWART: My problem is it‘s become tribal. And if you have 24-hour networks that focus—their job is to highlight the conflict between two sides—where I don‘t think that‘s the main conflict in our society—that was the point of the rally, was to deflate that idea that that‘s a real conflict—red/blue, Democrat/Republican.
But I feel like there‘s a bigger difference between people with kids and people who don‘t have kids—
STEWART: -- than red state/blue state.
MADDOW: But I guess the way I—and I follow your logic and I believe what you‘re saying up until a point.
STEWART: I‘m glad somebody‘s following it.
MADDOW: No, I do follow your logic. But it—I mean, the people interrupting people—interrupting meetings and interrupting rallies are direct action activists, who are doing stuff to be purposefully disruptive and a pain in order to sort of throw a wrench in the works.
STEWART: OK. Right.
MADDOW: And then on the other side—
STEWART: So, you‘re saying that it‘s really nothing?
MADDOW: Well, it‘s not that it‘s nothing. It‘s just not being done with the same level of authority as it is on the right—like the Second Amendment remedies thing, that‘s people running for Senate.
STEWART: Right. But how did you—how did you handle town hall meetings when Tea Partiers interrupted the town hall meetings? With the same level of dismissiveness or did you handle it with the sense that what‘s going on with these angry people? Who are these angry people?
MADDOW: Well, my coverage of that was about it being organized.
STEWART: But, again that is—your coverage of it was to delegitimize it. That it was actually not real. It was Astroturf.
MADDOW: No, actually not.
MADDOW: It was—I think my approach to that was to say this is being used as a widespread political tactic by people with a lot of money and a lot of stake in the policy issues, and they‘re sort of deploying direct action activists in a way that we haven‘t seen before.
STEWART: Would you say that—would you say the general spirit of the block of coverage on MSNBC was as dismissive of the woman who stands up and says Bush is a war criminal or the people at the town hall? Do you think they were viewed through the same prism?
MADDOW: I think that they were viewed through an appropriately proportional prism, because I think Code Pink is like 12 ladies and I think that, literally, half of Indiana says they identify with the Tea Party. And so—
STEWART: But, again, you are—you know, they say they identify with the Tea Party. What does that mean?
STEWART: Identify how? Identify with their idea—with the idea that they like smaller government or identify with yelling at a town hall?
This is—I‘m not saying—look, I love the voices that I hear on MSNBC. And there‘s a difference between—here‘s what‘s unfair about what I do. This is really what‘s a great—here‘s a great thing that I think is unfair: you‘re one person with one great voice and sincere and study—but I‘m a climate scientist. I study weather patterns and climate. You‘re talking about the weather.
Maybe these networks are not meant to be viewed in aggregate, but there is an aggregate. There is an effect.
And when people say, well, you‘re influential, too. I‘m a 22-minute show. And when I say, you know, puppets making crank calls in front of me, I don‘t mean that to diminish comedy. I mean that that is not then re-enforced through the next person. It‘s not a relay. And there is an amplifying effect to the relay.
STEWART: And this is not—you know, I don‘t—I want to make perfectly clear because I think if the argument is you do exactly what FOX do and you‘re as bad as FOX, anybody who has watched our show in any measure would understand the special place in our hearts for FOX.
STEWART: So, again, it feels to me like false equivalent sounds like something that you‘re doing as well. We have a tendency to grant amnesty to people that we agree with and to overly demonize people we don‘t. I do the same thing. I think everybody does.
MADDOW: If you would like to write to me in defense of Code Pink? I‘m all ears. I was just trying to make the point about the difference in size of the disruptive hands brigade on each side. But go ahead—send your hate mail to Rachel@MSNBC.com. I promise to read it.
And while you‘re at it, here‘s a fair warning of what is ahead in my continuing interview with Mr. Stewart.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEWART: FOX is not partisan either. They‘re really not.
MADDOW: But they never criticized George W. Bush for anything, even when he was not doing things that were not sort of conservative. They never criticized him.
STEWART: Yes. So, they‘re not—but that‘s—they are ideological.
But they‘re not—I don‘t know that they‘re partisan.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEWART: Here‘s what‘s the most amazing thing about this interview: I have not thrown up once while we‘ve been doing this. And that is—I can believe that maybe the longest in 24 hours that I have gone. You, my friend, are like ginger root. You are the ginger root of interviewers.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: There was, in fact, no barfing, none at all. That and even bigger, better surprises ahead.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: There‘s big—there‘s a lot of people on the right who have made this decision that they‘ll only talk to media who agrees with them.
STEWART: That‘s their greatest triumph.
MADDOW: Yes, and that‘s new. They were only—I think they were only able to do that now because the conservative media is big enough—
MADDOW: -- that they can still use it to get their voice out.
STEWART: You know, I don‘t think that‘s a new concept. I don‘t think that‘s a Republican or right-wing concept. I think they‘ve executed it pretty well. I think Bill Clinton was pretty good at delegitimizing.
The great that they‘ve done—I think the brilliance of FOX News is they delegitimized the idea of editorial authority while exercising incredible editorial authority—
STEWART: -- which is—it‘s amazing.
And they also have the game that they‘re all out to get us. So, any criticism of them can be filtered through the idea that it‘s persecution. It‘s not—this isn‘t criticism, it‘s persecution.
STEWART: And that‘s a tough distinction to make. But nobody likes to be criticized.
I don‘t like to see people that I like and respect go, you know, that rally was useless. It did nothing and, in fact, you‘re crazy and wrong, like—but I understand that I put something out there. I made something and people should have a chance to go, this is what I thought it was. I just want to make sure that I‘m clear about what I thought it was, not what I thought it was, what it was—
STEWART: -- because I made it.
MADDOW: But then what do you do with the noise? Like, what do you do with Second Amendment remedies? With the Koran-burning pastor? With the - - you know, the terror babies? Do you—if you don‘t cover it, it doesn‘t go away.
STEWART: How did FOX delegitimize media? By just relentlessly—
MADDOW: By saying biased.
STEWART: That‘s right.
STEWART: And so, the answer to that is: why don‘t we form just a more ideological network? That‘s fighting fire with fire to some extent.
MADDOW: I don‘t know that that was the answer, though.
MADDOW: I mean, I don‘t think that we—
STEWART: Do you think MSNBC has changed over the last five years? You know, there is a genetic linkage between Keith—Keith was the first and it was a voice like in the wilderness. People were like, what?
STEWART: Oh, my God. You can say that? You know?
And then you came on and Ed. And, again, now, I‘m talking about climate as opposed to weather.
STEWART: But it does create a linkage that I think it would be hard for you to say, like, geez, I don‘t know if we‘re really doing that. And then what are you doing?
MADDOW: Well, no, I think what happens is I think the media, having been derided for so long as being liberal and biased and being very afraid of that charge—
MADDOW: -- when Keith spoke out the way he did, he essentially came out of the closet as a liberal. And it didn‘t—nothing bad happened. It was OK. He still grew his audience, if anything.
And so, I think it gave network executives some courage to say, OK, people who are liberals can be on TV as long as they call themselves liberals.
STEWARTS: Yes, I think the idea that—
MADDOW: And then they hired the rest of us.
STEWART: -- network executives work on courage is—I think what they did is they went, why is FOX News kicking our asses? We need to fight this with a similar or sensational—you know, this is an arms race.
MADDOW: But, you know, it‘s not—I mean, being here and talk—having those conversations—that never happens. What happens is, look, Keith‘s making money. How can we do more of that? I mean, that‘s more of the conversation then—
STEWART: That‘s what I‘ve just said.
MADDOW: But, no, you said that with—that FOX is beating us. How can we be more like FOX?
STEWART: Well, no, no. How do we—Keith is making money. And it seems like—I don‘t think you can separate the atmosphere of FOX and think that network executives don‘t look at—nothing succeeds like excess or whatever. Nothing exceeds like excess.
You know, if that was a measured network and a measured tone, I don‘t think you would see people raising the bar on graphics and all those other things. People are fighting—the problem with 24-hour news cycle is it‘s built for a very particular thing, 9/11. Other than that, there really isn‘t 24 hours of stuff to talk about in the same way.
STEWART: Now, the problem is: how do you keep people watching it?
O.J.‘s not going to kill someone every day. So, that‘s gone.
So, what do you have to do? You have to elevate the passion of everything else that happens that might even be somewhat mundane and elevate it to the extent that this is breaking news. This is developing news. This is breaking developing news.
The aggregate effect of that is that you begin to lose the lexicon.
You begin to lose any meaning of what breaking news means or urgent or look
at this or dangerous. That was our montage at the end. It wasn‘t saying -
MADDOW: Just hype, hype, hype. Right.
STEWART: Right. It was—the language then has to become sharper, louder, to cut through more and more of the noise. And what I‘m saying is maybe there is a way to not engage in the idea, not to accept the premise - - there is a premise out there. The premise is: we are all on this access of left/right.
Maybe there‘s a different premise. And I don‘t mean that in the way of partisanship. I mean it in the way of—they cover politics. Politics is a Democratic and Republican game. It is left and right.
I think the conflict that would be more appropriate to a news channel would be corruption and non-corruption. And I don‘t mean corruption necessarily in the classic sense of this man has $90,000 in his refrigerator. We should really check that out. He‘s a congressman—that, too.
It‘s really—you know, one of my favorite things—Anderson Cooper, I think he does a really nice job. He‘s fun to watch and you as well. And I like, on a usual basis, a lot of this stuff.
Again, I watch way too much of it. I really do. And this is in itself corrupting.
But he‘s got a bit on his show that I love called “Keeping Them Honest”—
STEWART: -- which is just so funny to me because isn‘t that the subtext of—it would be like me introducing—I‘ve got a new segment called “telling jokes to an audience.” It just felt—you know, whenever you hear that, you‘re like, isn‘t that what this whole thing is?
MADDOW: But that‘s—well, that‘s only true though if you accept the premise that you‘re criticizing, which is that the thing to do to attract an audience is to point out conflict, to point hypocrisy, to point out things that are wrong.
STEWART: I think the thing to do—if you are going to add an ingredient to news, and everyone seems to—there is news, news exists.
STEWART: The nightly news, those things. That does exist. If you are adding an ingredient and I think if you‘re going to be on the air for 24 hours, you‘re going to need some ingredients.
MADDOW: None of us are on 24 hours solid. We‘re all have a piece of it. Yes.
STEWART: Well, MSNBC is not even on the weekends. Really? Do I have to see another guy eat another guy‘s brains on MSNBC in a lockdown cell?
MADDOW: Yes, you do.
STEWART: All right.
But do you what I‘m saying? The—you have to fill it with other ingredients. So maybe the ingredients would be to not necessarily just amplify that one aspect of the battle.
MADDOW: I do think there‘s a difference between having a point of view and being a partisan. I think that—
STEWART: I agree with that.
MADDOW: I mean, I am a liberal—it doesn‘t mean I think of Democrats as being on my team.
STEWART: No. But FOX is not partisan either. They‘re really not.
MADDOW: But they never criticized George W. Bush for anything, even when he was doing things that were sort of not conservative. They never criticized him.
STEWART: Yes. But they‘re not—but that‘s—they are ideological, but they‘re not—I don‘t know that they‘re partisan. They‘re—it certainly falls under the rubric of partisanship. But it‘s not—there are a lot of Republicans that can‘t get onboard, that they won‘t shine their light on.
MADDOW: So, they‘ll pick between Republicans, you mean?
STEWART: I think that‘s right.
MADDOW: Would they ever pick a Democrat?
STEWART: I think they would.
STEWART: I think Lieberman would be a guy that they would pick. They would pick a guy that they felt gave them—
MADDOW: A Democrat.
STEWART: Everybody picks people to give themselves cover. You always like—the most valuable person in the world is a turncoat.
STEWART: Because he‘s a guy that can come on and you can go, this guy was a Democrat. This guy is a Democrat. Now, he‘s sitting here saying, you‘re right.
STEWART: Obama is nuts.
What I‘m saying is not so much that the distinctions don‘t exist, is that they have been so blown—you talked about proportionality.
STEWART: It‘s surprising to see somebody—you know, again, this is the unfair criticism because you‘re one person. But proportionality is not the strong suit of the 24-hour news networks.
STEWART: I always wonder, I think to myself, how would they handle the moon landing? Because could they give it more coverage than they give balloon boy? Because balloon guy was kind of everywhere. So, what would they do?
STEWART: What would their font size be?
STEWART: “The New York times” has a font size. The difference is:
newspapers and blogs are an active process. You have to look at them.
They can make editorial judgment. But you are an active participant in it. You pick where you want to go and where you want to read and how you want to do it.
STEWART: The TV tells you. It‘s a passive experience.
STEWART: Our top story—you know what‘s always a great—a great exercise? Look at the difference between the top story on cable news and top story on the newspapers—you would have thought Juan Williams killed people.
STEWART: It was—it was everywhere. And what it was—the reason why it was everywhere is because it feels so beautifully into the narrative of left and right, liberal/conservative. It felt perfectly into the only fight that they seem to feel matters. And all I‘m saying is, that is, in many ways, a fun house mirror of what actually really matters.
MADDOW: I went into this interview today with Jon Stewart with a handful of questions about the media and then I was going to say: Are you sick of talking about the media? Me, too. Let‘s talk about Pakistan instead.
But there was no getting sick of talking about the media. So, there was no talk about Pakistan.
But there was, however, an unexpected diversion into trying to understand George W. Bush.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: On water-boarding—
MADDOW: -- Bush in his book says—
STEWART: Is that what‘s next?
MADDOW: -- he didn‘t—he didn‘t—
STEWART: Is that what happens now? Oh, my God. What happens to me now?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: My interview with Jon Stewart elicited a transient critique from him about the 24-hour cable news world. It also let me get some stuff off my chest.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: You think of it differently. But I think a lot of people who watch your show, and who watch cable news think of what we do as not being that different—which sucks for me because I used to be the sort of mildly amusing person talking—
STEWART: Right. Right. Right.
MADDOW: -- like using humor to tell the story of the wasteful F-35 second engine on that fighter jet.
MADDOW: And now, I‘m the person trying to be Jon Stewart and sucking.
STEWART: I love the F-35.
STEWART: That wasteful engine bit. That killed them. It used to be my bit.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That‘s ahead. Please stay with us.
STEWART: I always feel like I don‘t care where it comes from. If it‘s right, it‘s right. But that‘s an earned authority that I think is difficult to have when the environment is so polarized.
MADDOW: So then how do you—how do you deal with stuff that people believe that just isn‘t true?
STEWART: You cannot—you cannot control crazy.
MADDOW: But—so here on Iraq, right?
MADDOW: Bush accepted the report and everything, saying there were no weapons of mass destruction. And he admitted it and changed his rationales for the war in response to that finding and everything.
STEWART: Again, did he change it or—
MADDOW: Started talking about other—other reasons.
STEWART: They went out with four rationales for the war. I agree with you, the main one was fear. Colin Powell, he was waving anthrax. When he was down at the U.N., he wasn‘t waving freedom juice. He was waving anthrax. And I get that.
But there were four rationales, and they probably did that to provide themselves a certain amount of coverage. There‘s no question that they ranked one of them this. But even in the report, when he said, for instance, you guys did it on the show. Well, Saddam Hussein was actually trying to get around sanctions. I don‘t know if you remember this.
MADDOW: The U.N. Oil for Food program, gaming the system.
STEWART: Gaming the system. But if you follow that sound bite for another 15 seconds, he does say to reconstitute his weapons program.
MADDOW: So that he could get money so that he could use that money to reconstitute his weapons programs, right.
STEWART: Now, again, I see it in your eyes, but that‘s horse—whatever. But all I‘m saying is it is there. It‘s not as black and white.
You know, I think—let me go left. The left always says we‘re not black and white. I didn‘t like Bush because he was so black and white and there‘s not nuance. Do you think that the left ever suffers from that same myopia?
MADDOW: I think bad arguments exist everywhere, yes.
STEWART: Why not just do bad arguments? Why be—you are who you are.
MADDOW: I try and pursue bad arguments wherever I find them. Let me make this point about Bush and WMDs. Bush accepted that Saddam wasn‘t pursuing weapons of mass destruction. He changed the way that he talked about the war, I think.
STEWART: I think he—
MADDOW: He didn‘t dispute the report when it came out.
STEWART: Yes, but I think they were, like, yes, it‘s really sad we didn‘t find any.
MADDOW: Yes, that‘s definitely true.
STEWART: I got the sense that he was, like, yes, too bad that report didn‘t find that the weapons that I knew were there.
MADDOW: But now he‘s back in the book saying Saddam was pursuing weapons of mass destruction. He declares that as if it is fact. And that‘s not true.
STEWART: It‘s true depending on where you start the pursuit. In other words, if my son pursuing his car? Yes. My son very much wants a car. Now, he‘s six. So he doesn‘t have a job yet, but he is pursuing a car. He‘s got to wait a while, and a lot of things are going to have to happen.
Do you get what I‘m saying? I get that that‘s a manipulation, but it is also in some ways a subtle narrative manipulation to just dismiss that.
MADDOW: But it is—he is using—he is doing that on purpose to make people think that the war in Iraq was justified because of weapons of mass destruction. You wouldn‘t say Saddam was pursuing WMD and the world is safer because he‘s gone.
STEWART: Do you think he really believes the world is safer without Saddam Hussein, even if he wasn‘t pursuing weapons of mass destruction?
MADDOW: I believe he thinks the world is safer, but I don‘t think he believes the world is safer because Saddam was pursuing weapons of mass destruction, because he wasn‘t. And so—
STEWART: Right. But that‘s, again, like that‘s a belief. That‘s what you believe. But I don‘t know that, you know, I don‘t know the guy. I‘m the same way about his arguments.
I do think he believes Saddam Hussein was dangerous and a madman and had weapons of mass destruction. And the fact that we couldn‘t find them just means that he had taken, you know, an asthma recess and was just waiting until he could do it again because we were watching him.
I just—I disagree with the idea that it is—because one is truly dishonest and borderline evil. And I guess that‘s where I get the point. Like, I‘m trying to wrap around my head about the idea that someone who would say you could water-board isn‘t evil. And that‘s where I have to go back to, like, OK, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He interned on 120,000 Japanese-Americans. Was he evil?
I think you have to examine your own orthodoxy before you can feel comfortable. But let‘s really try and fight on the most precise and proportional terms we can.
STEWART: If possible.
MADDOW: And on waterboarding—
MADDOW: -- Bush in his book says—
STEWART: Is that what‘s next? Is that what happens now? Oh, my god!
What happens to me now?
MADDOW: He said in his book—
STEWART: He‘s proud of that.
MADDOW: He didn‘t just say yes, waterboard him. In his writing, he says “Damn right, water-board the guy.”
STEWART: I know.
MADDOW: I don‘t—I mean, it‘s hard for me to believe that he did that. He says that‘s what he did. But what that means is that the people who are arguing that waterboarding/torture is a bad thing lost the argument and it‘s now a political asset to brag about having waterboarding.
STEWART: I kind of think they were always like that. I never got the sense that there was a sense of shame. I always thought there was a sense of legal maneuvering. I never felt they thought they were covering it up because they thought it was a bad idea or it would paint them as evil.
MADDOW: Just didn‘t want to get nailed for it.
STEWART: I think that was it, or they wanted to figure out a way to do it.
Now, this comes to the next part, though. What is their intention? Is his intention truly to save American lives? Does that justify everything? Well, maybe it doesn‘t. Where do you draw the line? Why don‘t they just water-board everybody? A lot of people get shot in gang violence in the city. Why not water-board gang members?
You know, then you get into all these other arguments. But if the place that you start from is, he‘s an evil man who did that to lie to us so that he could take gratuitous pleasure in his own masculinity or whatever it is.
MADDOW: But I‘m not saying that, nobody‘s saying that.
STEWART: But that‘s an example of, again, pushing it too far. But that‘s what people do. They take things and they go into the next realm.
MADDOW: I just don‘t think that—I don‘t think that I do that. I mean, I can‘t speak for everybody here. And I am definitely part of the conflictinator, primetime and the whole bit.
MADDOW: But I think that the criticism of George Bush on waterboarding is a precise criticism. I don‘t think it‘s this guy is an evil monster. I think it is that was wrong for the country and he shouldn‘t be defending it.
STEWART: Yes, I don‘t get the sense that the argument is as passive as that, but OK. That‘s a fair point.
STEWART: I think that it‘s somewhere in between. I think that the argument generally has not been, this is wrong for the country. It has overstepped a certain line. I think it was a little more—
MADDOW: Well, it‘s impassioned certainly. This is wrong for the country! I will scream it if that makes it less of a case.
STEWART: I wouldn‘t suggest that this was wrong for the country, but that you‘re a bad man.
MADDOW: I think that you are—I think that you are glossing over the gray areas in a way that isn‘t fair.
MADDOW: “That could very well be,” he says. Or—yes, there‘s more.
Stay with us. More of my interview with Jon Stewart ahead.
MADDOW: Do you think that “The Daily Show” functions just as entertainment? I feel like—satire is more than entertainment. It is engagement and it is criticism.
STEWART: Here‘s what I would say. I feel more of a kinship to Jerry Seinfeld than I do to, you know, what you guys do or what CNN does or what NBC does in that he is able to comedically articulate an intangible for people. When they see it, they go, god, it‘s been in my head, and I know it‘s been in there, but I‘ve never put it together with that kind of rhythm in four levels. And that‘s hilarious that you were able to articulate that.
He is a craftsman at that. He‘s the best at being able to craft those moments of sort of these intangible esoteric things and put them together in something that connects with people.
We try and do the same thing but with a more political, social avenue. But if you were to look at our process, he‘s much more our process than the news is. Does that make sense?
MADDOW: But what I know of your process seems very similar to the way that I put my show together.
STEWART: You really need to change it.
STEWART: We have to—because we‘re parodying a news organization, we have to have the logistics and mechanics of one.
STEWART: But the process that the material goes through is not a news process. It‘s a—
MADDOW: But it‘s fact checking.
STEWART: Well, we do that, though, not to be journalists. We do that because it wouldn‘t be that funny.
MADDOW: If it was a lie.
STEWART: Yes. People would be, like, I think it‘s pronounced Baltimore, not Bal-ti-mo.
You do that because untrue things stand out like a sore thumb in the -
MADDOW: Even though you identify yourself as fake news and built with a fake news process—
STEWART: Yes. We don‘t say fake—I mean, fake is wrong. It‘s a misnomer that we use. And it‘s glib. It‘s not—we‘re not news anything.
STEWART: We‘re commenting on the news comedically.
MADDOW: I think that you think of it differently, but I think a lot of people who watch your show and who watch cable news think of what we do as not being that different, which sucks for me, because I used to be the sort of mildly amusing person using humor to tell the story of the wasteful F-35‘s second engine on that fighter jet. And now I‘m the person trying to be Jon Stewart and sucking.
STEWART: Can I say something? I loved that F-35 bit. That wasteful engine bit, that killed them.
That used to be my bit.
MADDOW: Even if you‘re not launching it in the same way, it‘s being received in the same way. And the barriers between what actually happens on cable news that you‘re satirizing and what you‘re doing, we‘re not seen as being all that different. Is that—
STEWART: The only thing that I would say, it doesn‘t worry me. I can understand how it would worry people in the news. But what I—I have existed. I am the highlander. You know, there has been a form of me around in forever, a comedian who, with political and social concepts, criticizes them from a haughty yet ultimately feckless perch throwing things.
The box that I‘m in has always existed. The box that you‘re talking about, I think, is new. And so I do think if that‘s moving towards me, that‘s OK. But I really feel like I‘m on pretty solid ground with the footsteps of my ancestors, you know.
That‘s all, you know, I don‘t happen if the Smothers Brothers don‘t happen, Bill Maher. You know, those guys all paved a way for something that I do, but that‘s always existed.
MADDOW: That‘s kind of a news flash, right? “The Daily Show” no longer wishes to be considered fake news. They‘d like to be considered as not news at all. I still think it‘s news.
The finale ahead, including me getting a talking-to about the word “teabag.”
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: You don‘t think it was funny that they were calling them—they were saying “teabag the White House before the White House teabags you?”
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: The caricature of the left versus the right is something that
STEWART: I don‘t think that that‘s the caricature of the left. I really don‘t.
STEWART: I think the caricature of the left is one that is slightly that that they use as a cudgel—don‘t you hate when the Republicans used to use the phrase “Democrat”? “Democrat.”
MADDOW: The “Democrat Party.”
MADDOW: It has the word “rat” in it.
STEWART: It seems dickish, “The Democrat Party.” Or when you spoke out against the war there was a subtle undertone of, you‘re un-American. You don‘t want to win the war on terror.
Well, I think that what also comes out sometimes from the other side is “tea bagger.” Now that‘s I think derogatory, and I don‘t think that anybody would mistake it for that for anything other than that. And it‘s been used on this network quite frequently by hosts, by guests.
MADDOW: You don‘t think it was funny that they were calling them, they were saying “tea bag the White House before the White House tea bags you?”
STEWART: I thought that it was funny for a day.
MADDOW: Funny enough to play the John Water clips of the tea bagging thing on the bar?
STEWART: For a day. Probably wouldn‘t have run with it with guests so much.
MADDOW: I didn‘t run with it here for months, but I got criticized for it for months.
STEWART: Because you kind of made more hay of it.
MADDOW: Took the joke too far.
STEWART: Now again, I have the leeway do that. Now we get back to a whole other thing. I do have the leeway to do that. The one thing I don‘t have that you have is the ability to do really something about it. You‘re in the game, like—
MADDOW: You‘re in the game to. We‘re in the same game.
STEWART: I don‘t think so. I think that you‘re in a better game than I‘m in.
MADDOW: How? What‘s the difference, the material difference?
STEWART: You‘re in the playing field.
MADDOW: Everybody sees you on the playing field too, I think.
STEWART: That may be.
STEWART: And that‘s, again, back to the point the rally, that rally I could have gotten on the field, and people got mad that I didn‘t. But that was the point. That rally was to deflate a bubble and to do what I think satire does best, which is articulate an intangible feeling that people are having, bring it into focus, say you‘re not alone, it‘s a real feeling. It‘s maybe even a positive feeling, a hopeful feeling, and in a weird way it‘s idealistic, but it‘s impotent.
The next thing I could do is step onto the field and go, so now here‘s what we‘re going to do, people. Jones, you go over there. Brooklyn, you grab the canteens. We‘re out there.
But I don‘t. That‘s my failing, and my indulgence, but it‘s done because I feel like I am where I belong, and I feel like I serve the best purpose in my life or in whatever it is that I can.
But I don‘t take any satisfaction in that. And I don‘t take any satisfaction in just being a critic. Roger Ebert doesn‘t make movies. So to say, well, Roger, you‘re in the game. No he‘s not. He‘s not making movies. He‘s sitting in the seat, going, “this movie sucks.” That‘s me.
STEWART: And by the way, very proud to do it. There is no honor in what I do, but I do it as honorably as I can.
MADDOW: In politics, in covering politics, we don‘t get involved. I mean I don‘t get involved in telling people what to vote for, who to vote for. I don‘t people you know call your congressmen we need do this thing. I don‘t do anything like that. And so for me I‘m not on the field either.
STEWART: I feel like you‘re depending yourself from things that are not coming at you from me or from our rally or things like that in a way that—again, the really unfair thing is individuals make—it‘s one of those pictures where it‘s all made of up little pictures, and you go oh that‘s my picture in there.
But again, proportionately to what we do, you think we‘re not—do you think we‘re not fair to MSNBC proportionately?
MADDOW: Actually, I really don‘t. I don‘t actually think the false equivalents thing that you feel that you want to talk about and that you feel defensive about the rally is a major issue. I don‘t feel like you guys—but I do feel like there is—I do feel like the left gets, including from you, gets criticized for stuff that we don‘t deserve because it is more institutional on the right than it is on the left.
MADDOW: And that the examples that are culled whether it‘s Alan Grayson yelling on the floor of the House or its Code Pink interrupting a rally are not equivalent to Sharron Angle saying if conservatives don‘t get what they want they‘re going to use guns to get what they want. And she‘s a U.S. Senate candidate.
STEWART: You think we said that those are equal?
MADDOW: I think you have done some of that. I don‘t think it‘s the main thing that you do when you talk about the media.
But the thing where I feel like we are in the same boat, and you don‘t accept that we‘re in the same boat, but I think we are, is, like, I remember right after the 2000 election—and I won‘t keep you here forever, I‘m sorry. Right after the 2000 election, you said, something that—something—I remember—I remember it was about George Bush and Dick Cheney, it was right after Bush v. Gore, and you said something to the effect that Bush said, “Can we have the recession outside today because the weather‘s so nice?”
STEWART: Right, right.
MADDOW: The idea being that George Bush is an idiot. He‘s an infantile person, recession and recess are the same thing.
STEWART: Right, right.
MADDOW: And after the “tea bag the White House before they tea bagged you” sign goes on FOX News, we talk about what the whole idea of tea bagging is and how funny it is that they don‘t get what that word choice means.
I sort of feeling that we‘re doing the same thing. Essentially you exaggerate to be funny or in order to make a point, and everyone understands that there‘s a little exaggeration.
STEWART: That‘s true.
MADDOW: But I think that we both have a commitment to not lying, to telling—to telling the truth even when we are—
STEWART: As we see it.
MADDOW: -- as we‘re making the point.
STEWART: As we see it. I think that everybody does it. I don‘t doubt that it‘s genuine.
There is a part of me that feels like there is a high-mindedness to
news in journalism that doesn‘t exist. I feel like I have liberties that
you don‘t have. And I could lose them by stepping into that, and what I
would gain in that I think is a little bit more dignity, a little bit more
you know what I mean? Like, there‘s—I‘d have a little bit more skin in the game, and I think that there‘s something more courageous of what we do.
So that, I very much admire. But I also think, though, that there‘s a part me that says, like, these rules have existed for people, such as me, forever. And we‘re not the ones bending them. I‘m not—
MADDOW: We‘re getting to be more like you, you‘re not getting to be more like us.
STEWART: Kind us.
MADDOW: Until the rally, and then you got a little bit more like us.
STEWART: Yes, because I felt like in 12 years I earned a moment to tell people who I was. And that‘s what I did. And—and, you know, this isn‘t going to be me forever either. And that doesn‘t mean you know—but in my life I also try and actually get on the field and help people, just in a different way. Just not through the show.
MADDOW: Not through the show.
You are a mensch for spending this much time with us.
STEWART: I am a mensch. That‘s a Yiddish word, right?
Can I tell you something?
STEWART: I will say this and you can edit this out—I like you. I just—there‘s—you know, we can—we can have different points about, this is a little bit unfair as it goes in there. And I completely agree. Like what—what happens in discourse is not precise.
STEWART: But what is important, I think, is the place that people come from. And it‘s important to remember, like, when I do those things I do try and remember where I think people are coming from. And I‘m trying to do better in my life, remembering that, from even those they really disagree with.
STEWART: And I think that some of that is based on, you know, the whole idea, you know, I don‘t know if you know this Iranian journalist.
MADDOW: Oh, yes.
STEWART: So he was arrested. There are, like as a say, there are real enemies in the world and really just bad evil things. But there are a lot less of them than we probably from watching all this stuff think that there are.
And that‘s all that I just try and remember in my own head to keep saying, because you‘ve got to understand, I watch this stuff like, you know, “Clockwork Orange.” I‘m strapped to my chair. It just comes out. It‘s like if you watch local news all of the time you‘re going to think something terrible is going to happen to your family. You will feel the fear more than—
MADDOW: I will definitely be afraid of driving, a fear of car crashes.
STEWART: Or the intestinal flu.
Here‘s what‘s the most amazing thing about this interview—I have not thrown up once while we‘ve been doing this, and that is—I believe that may be the long nest 24 hours that I have gone. You, my friend, are like gingerroot.
You are the gingerroot in interviewers in that you have pulled things out of me that I never knew were there, and yet still I leave not nauseous. And that is a wonderful gift and a talent that you bring to the news world in a way that most people don‘t, and I admire that, and I think that‘s really great.
MADDOW: Thank you.
STEWART: You‘re welcome.
MADDOW: Thanks for all of the time, Jon.
MADDOW: I will shake your hand.
STEWART: I don‘t want to do it because I have the bobbons (ph).
There you go.
MADDOW: Thanks, Jon.
STEWART: It was really nice of Mr. Stewart to come over here with the stomach flu and everything. The full, untrimmed, too-long-for-TV discussion is posted online at Maddowblog.MSNBC.com. That does it for us tonight. Thank you very much for watching. Have a good night.
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