Jon Stewart and Marco Rubio Do Political TV the Right Way

I haven’t seen much discussion on the intertubes of Jon Stewart’s interview with Marco Rubio last night. I find this somewhat puzzling, if not disappointing.

For those that haven’t seen it, I cannot recommend it enough. Unlike most cable TV interviews it is over half an hour long without commercials, and is absolutely riveting.  In many (albeit odd) ways, it is as close to a Firing Line interview as I have seen on television in many, many years.

Both Stewart and Rubio come off as smart and passionate, and both seem to genuinely want to find some common areas of agreement. The degree to which they can’t is underlined by Stewart near the end, as he laments that they both seem to live in “separate universes.”  The obvious world one sees directly before them seems a completely alien fabrication to the other. It’s a powerful testimony to how difficult the politicization of facts and data can make it to legitimately try and solve big issues in today’s political arena.

It also is – hands down – a million times smarter, more incisive, and more thought provoking than any of the many, many interviews (including one with Rubio himself) I saw in my FOXNews-MSNBC Taste Test. What’s more, it featured an interviewer in Stewart that actively worked to try find out what his guest was thinking, as opposed to the FOX and MSNBC hosts that mainly used their guest as a vehicle to talk about how awesome the host was. Rubio was challenged by Stewart, but was never treated with anything less than respect; the exact same can be said for Stewart by Rubio.

That the differences in quality of – God Lord, I can’t even believe I’m about to write this word in this context – journalism are this skewed toward a half hour comedy satire show that often features dick jokes over two billion dollar rival cable news networks is about as sad a commentary as one might make about TV journalism today.

This is the first third of the interview, which was on YouTube at the time of this posting.  Comedy Central does not allow it’s content to be YouTubed, so who knows how long this embed will last.  Also, I can’t embed the entire interview (which gets much, much better as it goes along); you’ll need to go to the Daily Show website to watch it. But watch it you should. It may be the only decent political interview you see on TV all year.

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55 thoughts on “Jon Stewart and Marco Rubio Do Political TV the Right Way

  1. Since Comedy Central started to stream basically all their stuff, Stewart routinely does long form interviews, with the TV only airing an excerpt.

    The best part of Stewart’s show is that he interviews people that have ideas and write books about those ideas, which really nobody else does on TV besides Brian Lamb.

    (he also had some Egyptian TV personality/political satirist on the other day, which again, nobody else does that sort of thing)

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  2. This reminds me of what Bobby Weir said when the Grateful Dead did a fundraiser for some worthwhile but neglected cause: “Someone has to do something about this, and it’s pathetic that it’s us.”

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  3. It is a pretty sad commentary on the state of American TV journalism when the best political discussion shows are presented by comedians–Stewart, Colbert, and Maher. I know a lot of people can’t stand Maher, but I’ve found that he’s generally respectful of his conservative guests and tries to keep debates on his show from turning into shouting matches.

    Stewart is simply the best. He’s a brilliant political pundit and a successful interviewer, in large part because he actually listens to what his guests have to say and because he assumes a decent level of intelligence on the part of his audience. Too bad the cable news stations have not, for the most part, stumbled on to this formula.

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  4. This is also why Rubio is, in my opinion, one of the more dangerous Republicans (or, if you’re a member of the Grand Ol’ Party, one of your brightest hopes.) He at least comes across as sincere, earnest, and charming. He’s well-spoken and easy on the eyes. Some of his past might pose a problem, but I still think he might be the Chosen One.

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  5. Yes, I can watch Stewart with regularity (I actually DVR his show) even though we would not really be fellow-travelers, politically…

    Perhaps you’ve hit on the next LoOG symposium here: “The degree to which they can’t is underlined by Stewart near the end, as he laments that they both seem to live in “separate universes.” The obvious world one sees directly before them seems a completely alien fabrication to the other. ”

    Working title: At what point does Diversity become Heresy?

    p.s. is something wrong with the RSS feeds? I haven’t had an update from the “Don’t Eat the Marshmallow” story in about 2-weeks… are sub-blogs promoted to main page not triggering the feed? Seemed to go kitty-wampus after the Inequality seminar… probably Hanley’s fault.

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  6. Rubio came across as rigid and unwilling to see ANYTHING Stewart said. He had the ONE WAY to solve the debt crisis that he kept going back to. He may seem polite, charming and knowledgeable, but he is no different from the rest of the pack of Norquist pledge signers. And I’m sorry but I don’t buy the whiney bizness about the senate not being allowed to vote on a bill. The reason that Jon felt like they were from differnet universes is because Rubio was toeing the party line and would not admit that there was any gray area. He was ingenuous at best. Don’t drink his cool aid.

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    • Yeah. I was surprised that Jon didn’t go after him on that point more strongly. It’s that exact issue that Stewart was pushing — that the GOP sees only one answer to most things and is unwilling to consider alternatives. That’s what has frozen the government. I loved the snicker when he said they were opposed to the “bad ideas”.

      But I did appreciate the discourse. I have *NEVER* watched any of the Sunday morning “panel” shows. If they were like this, I’d start.

      To give Rubio the benefit of the doubt, I would say that the GOP made their bed a bit but did it before he was in office. The first two years of the Obama administration were marred by the GOP attacking anything and everything put forth. Finding any way to “stop Obama” and all he endorsed.

      Pelosi and Reid fanned the flames, too. It’s too bad that the Dems didn’t have someone like Rubio in the drivers’ seat, as opposed to two people with egos and agendas that like to demonize those who disagree.

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  7. The problem is that conservatives appearing on the Daily Show look like reasonable people, when in reality, they are bald-faced liars. I think part of it is Stewart’s preparation, but more importantly, I sense that he has become less willing to openly challenge them and knock them off their game. He never goes for the hard hitting questions, like how much money they’re taking from corporations and how that influences their votes. Unfortunately, because of Stewart’s acquiescence, he doesn’t realize his show is becoming part of the Republican propaganda machine.

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    • THere is a difference between a softball question, a hard-hitting question, and and an accusation phrased as a question. “Who are your donors and how much do they influence you” is an accusation phrased as a question, not a hard-hitting question. The first part of the question is, generally speaking, a matter of public record. It’s also something that the politician isn’t likely to know precisely offhand, so it’s a great way of making the politician look like an ass to your audience (which already hates him). The second part of the question is never going to get a meaningful, falsifiable answer- the answer is always going to be “not at all,” or if you’re lucky “not at all- I assume my donors support me because they agree with me.”. The audience will not believe the politician (who they already dislike, presumably), and will think the host’s inevitable subsequent badgering constitutes that host putting the pol in their place or “schooling” the pol. In reality, we will have learned nothing about the pol, and the pol, angry at the accusation-as-question will not trust the interviewer and will not provide any useful or informative responses to further questions.

      The result? The audience gets to bask in their righteous moral outrage, the pol sees his own prejudices about his political opponents validated, and no one learns a damn thing.

      Great theater, sure. But the opposite of good journalism.

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      • Stewart is just letting these conservatives play the “we’ll have to agree to disagree” game, which gives them a semblance of seriousness. People think, “Oh, it’s just a difference in world view and has nothing to do with anything else, like corporate money, that could influence them”. This is a lie, and it’s a tragedy that, not only does Stewart let conservatives sneak away unmasked, but they look good in the end.

        So, you can split hairs about the precise wording of questions and protect your definition of “good journalism”. But the bottom line remains the same. It reminds me of the criticism he received from Rachel Maddow and Bill Maher after he gave his closing monologue at the “Rally to Restore Sanity”. Definitely google that.

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        • It seems to me that it would be one thing if Rubio’s views weren’t broadly representative of about 40% of the population. But they are. Surely you don’t think that 40% of the country’s views can be explained just by “those views are bought and paid for, and to suggest otherwise is a lie.”

          Nor is that type of questioning “calling them out on their BS” or anything of that nature, at least not unless they’ve got something concrete beyond innuendo. It’s guaranteed to get exactly the same response every single time, no matter how much or how little the politician is in fact on the take. No one’s mind will be changed; everyone’s prejudices will be reinforced and validated, and precisely nothing newsworthy will come out of the interview.

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      • He’s not a GOP shill, but everything he’s recently done including the Rally to Restore Sanity has been a whole lot of Brooksean “both sides do are crazy” silliness. When you give respect to people with crazy policy positions as if they’re reasonable, don’t be surprised when five years later, the crazy position is now the centrist reasonable position.

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          • Tod,
            Stop bringing up strawmen. No one is talking about fighting fire with fire. It’s about actually calling people on their BS. Like the way Rachel Maddow and Bill Maher do. They get it. Does Stewart? I don’t think so anymore.

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            • What straw men? What I’m hearing you say is that Jon Stewart is not acceptable to you, because he doesn’t champion your viewpoint. Do I have that wrong? Were you hoping that he’d really go after liberals? Because I had the impression you kind of wanted him to hammer only one side. Apologies if I read that wrong.

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              • No one is saying he’s a GOP shill, and no one is saying he should be like Fox. He should call BS wherever there is BS, whether it’s on the left or right. For the last few years, Stewart’s been treating people with kid gloves way too often. All that does is reinforce people’s confusion about the issues because they think it’s just a difference in opinion when the reality is that these guys do not have the public interest in mind.

                I remember a while back when Stewart skewered Crossfire. He said, “See, the thing is, we need your help. Right now, you’re helping the politicians and the corporations. And we’re left out there to mow our lawns.”

                He should think more about that statement in relation to his current style.

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              • The problem to me is that in a lot of these interviews, Stewart really does show his limitations as an interviewer not because he’s too deferential or too nice, but because he himself doesn’t have the requisite knowledge to be able to usefully critique the counterpoints made by his opponents.

                In this respect, because Colbert always tends to rephrase his opponent’s points in a rather ridiculous but “in character” way, he does a better job of actually dismantling the counterarguments made instead of letting say, various lies stand.

                It’s also simply a limitation of the format. As Krugman pointed out about his “debate” with Ron Paul, the format doesn’t really allow challenging dissections of facts and assertions.

                Stewart just doesn’t have the chops to be a good political interview, not because he’s too soft, or not insightful enough, but because he doesn’t have the resources to have a stack of fact checks regarding oppo talking points.

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                • “Colbert always tends to rephrase his opponent’s points in a rather ridiculous but “in character” way, he does a better job of actually dismantling the counterarguments… Stewart just doesn’t have the chops to be a good political interview”

                  This makes me curious… how do you define a good interview? Is a good interview one where you “dismantle” the person you’re interviewing? Does a good interview have to be adversarial?

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      • Agreed. I think that’s a great approach.

        For other examples of how to interview conservatives, I think back on Stewart’s interviews of Jim Cramer, Stephen Hayes, and his last one with McCain. Although I’ll say that maybe the Hayes interview was more because the interviewee was really naive.

        Anyway, I don’t know when Stewart started to lose his mojo, but I remember first realizing this after the interview with Eric Cantor in late 2010.

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