Admittedly we’re a little behind the eight ball in posting this interview from last Thursday night’s Rachel Maddow Show, in which the MSNBC host sat down with Jon Stewart to discuss criticisms of the media launched at last month’s Rally To Restore Sanity. As many have noted, it was an interesting dance to watch. Maddow, the warmest and smartest face of a network that found itself in Stewart’s scope, came to her own defense. And an under-the-weather Stewart deflected much of the “false equivalence” criticism thrown his way after he grouped MSNBC and Fox together, and made some pretty salient points about the media and his job as a media-watcher.

It was some good TV—not in the “Are you in a trance?” gotcha sense, but in the sense of watching two extremely smart, invested people debate a high-stakes subject we care about. It was also a nice, sane change in pace for cableland. When things got testy, such as in the following exchange about MSNBC’s coverage of last summer’s town halls, they remained civil.

Stewart: Your coverage of it was to delegitimize it; that it was actually not real, it was Astroturf.

Maddow: No. Actually no… 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 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 twelve ladies and I think that literally half of Indiana says they identify with the Tea Party.

Stewart said that his problem with much of cable coverage—something that might have been misperceived by some listening to his rally speech—is that it inflates the conflicts and differences between political sides.

It’s become tribal. If you have 24-hour news channels 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…. That’s a real conflict, red-and-blue, democrat-republican. But I feel there’s a bigger difference between people with kids and people who don’t have kids than red state blue state.

The entire interview is worth a look.

If you don’t have the fifty minutes to spare, MSNBC (among others) has posted the interview in parts.


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Joel Meares is a former CJR assistant editor.