Jon Stewart's Ethic

There’s a decency to Jon Stewart that seems to be in his fiber and which has manifested itself as a kind of professional ethic. This was driven home to me in a fascinating interview he did last night with Rachel Maddow, when, at one point, he said:

There’s no honor in what I do, but I try to do it as honorably as I can.

I’m with Nick Baumann, who writes that the interview was

lengthy, contentious, and thought-provoking, but (as is always the case with Maddow’s interviews) remarkably civil.

For me, much of what Stewart said is relevant to the larger public discourse on political and policy issues (especially the climate debate), not just the hyperbolic talkfest on cable television, which Stewart adroitly skewers on a nightly basis.

So I thought I’d share some notable soundbites that I took away from the Stewart-Maddow interview.

Here’s Stewart on the dynamic of political partisanship being artificially “amplified” by the likes of Fox News and MSNBC:

“What I do believe is that both sides [right wing/left wing] have their way of shutting down debate and the news networks have allowed these two sides to become the fight in the country.”

Stewart on political tribalism:

“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…I’m saying, let’s just stop defending teammates, your guy.”

Stewart on the news industry as it is practiced in two parallel worlds:

“Here’s a great exercise: look at the top story on cable news and the top story in newspapers.”

Rachel Maddow: “I think there’s a difference between having a point of view and being partisan.”

Maddow: “I think we both [referring to her and Stewart] have a commitment to tell the truth…”

Stewart: “…as we see it.”

In the interview, Stewart’s sense of decency and fairness repeatedly shined through–at one point he talked about how he sought to separate people’s intentions from their arguments/actions. The discourse gets poisoned all too often, he argued, when people try to divine the “intentions” of their opponents. There’s some really interesting back and forth on this relating to George W. Bush.

If you have time this weekend, watch the whole (uncut) interview. As Nick Baumann says,

There’s a lot in there to think about.

12 Responses to “Jon Stewart's Ethic”

  1. Shub says:

    At ~40 seconds, Jon says:

    “Whatever you put out, you can only control your intention, you can’t control its perception or how people recieve it. And you can control your execution.”

  2. DeNihilist says:

    Loved his work boots! and left untied too!

  3. Huge Difference says:

    When I first started reading blogs, I enjoyed the snark, but the blogs have killed off snark for me.
    I read too much monkey feces throwing at so many blogs, by the bloggers, by the commenters, and it seems to have traveled everywhere else in the mediasphere as well making for one huge crapfest — instead of having a reasonable dialogue.
    I think I first noticed it in another form at the blogs in the political realm, where anyone who disagreed with your particular extreme partisan view and argued for any sort of moderation was called a concern troll.
    And then, with climate science it just became denier.
    And all of this is seen as a good thing.  Hence, today, we have so called scientists that take public funds for their research and yet demand that it’s okay for them to act as advocates and not just advisers.

  4. thingsbreak says:

    I like and agree with a lot of what Stewart said, too. But he really fails to grasp/doesn’t believe that he has become- I suspect in an effort to avoid the “turn a blind eye to bad things my ‘team’ does” syndrome mentioned- guilty of the very same “balance as bias” that the mainstream media has been rightly pilloried for. Those criticisms of Stewart are bang on, and moreover, his efforts at “balance” or whatever it is he’s trying to do miss the mark completely about what is unraveling the country’s political discourse. As Esquire put it:
    that’s where Jon Stewart went off the rails the other day, when he traded sense for sensibility. The problem is not that we don’t play nice enough with each other. The problem is that one side plays by its own rules in a universe of its own devising, with its own physical laws, its unique economics, and its own history and theology, and that universe is now devouring the real one.

  5. RickA says:

    I also really liked the interview, and was really impressed with how Jon Stewart can objectively look at both sides of the political debate.
    I also watched the whole interview at Rachel’s site and thought she did an excellent and fair job editing the interview for TV.
    All, in all, very thought provoking.
    Considering he was gently criticizing MSNBC for being like FOX News, I thought it spoke highly of Rachel that she put the interview on the air and on her website.

  6. Simon D says:

    I think a lot of bloggers could learn something from his approach.

  7. Andy says:

    The problem with that “balance as bias” argument is that it usually comes from a partisan perspective.  If there’s a pox on both houses, it’s not wrong to say so even if one side is “better,” more consistent, or more logical by whatever metric.  Claiming that one’s opponents are in another, alternate universe that is “devouring” the “real” one is just the kind of broad-brush and useless statement that Stewart is right to criticize.  In other words, it’s one thing to criticize an opponent’s policies and argue that yours are better and explain why they are better, but it’s quite another to question their motivations or sanity.  I think Stewart’s point is that it’s ok to disagree but there’s no need to be disagreeable and the problem with Fox, MSNBC and the others is that they too often openly promote and enable the disagreeable element which overwhelms and obscures legitimate, substantive disagreement.

  8. Matt B says:

    Very good interview….I have always like Stewart and I now like him more. He has a rational approach to issues, with a good heart, and that allows him to see both sides of issues in a way that most of the chatting class cannot.
    I like Maddow now more than before, and she may be the best we can get from the commentating class. But, from a purely rational approach, here is where I think she fails. She sees the liberal side, personified as MSNBC, as being partisan, but less ideological than the Fox News side. So, that makes the MSNBC point of view more virtuous. What she doesn’t seem to understand (and what Stewart  seems to completely understand) is that when either side takes a position that demonizes an alternative point of view, they damn well better be 100% rock solid with the proof to back it up. Else, the vast middle will come to know an exception to that view, and thus discount the entire argument. At that point, from the vast middle, MSNBC and Fox become equivalent, equally  unreliable. What she seemed to have trouble with is that credibility and partisanship are almost impossible to hold at the same time, a notion that Stewart tried very hard to get across. Stewart was pretty militant about not wanting to have either credibility of partisanship as defining his efforts; he wants freedom from both.

  9. Keith Kloor says:

    Simon (6), I agree and thought your recent related post was terrific.

  10. Huge Difference says:

    Simon (6), I read your essay, and I think it’s right on.
    But there are many reasons for the snark and shouting.
    One is that it garners attention, and that isn’t entirely unbad, but it does raise the noise level and lower the barrier to the next snarker in line.
    What’s worse though is that many posts use argument-ad-snark and argument-ad-righteous-indignation as a substitute for logic, fact, and evidence.
    It’s also serves as a signal in a medium where it’s sometimes hard to determine intent, or humor, or other emotions.
    You might be right, but I can call you a troll, a denier, a concern troll, a right winger, a libtard, RON PAUL, and say you’re in it for the money, and thereby rally all the good people to the cause of shouting you down.
    Somehow related is the mindless phenomena of mindless retweeting of a retweet of a tweet.

  11. Dean says:

    The reason for snark and shouting is that it is how things usually get done. People don’t like it, but it works. People don’t like negative advertising either, but it also often works, though it’s possible to take it too far.
    People say that they want more moderation and compromise in government, but how many candidates who want and actually do that are getting elected?
    People can have these ethics and get much acclaim for saying these things. But in politics, it is a case of falling on your sword in most cases if you do so. There are some exceptions, but they are just that.
    I’m certainly not saying that this is a good thing, and debating why it is and what causes it is a long debate. But there is a reason that inside politics, they have a name for this kind of behavior: surrender.

  12. JeffN says:

    Stewart is doing a good job of calling out the poison of the cocoon- on both sides of the political fight. If you’re getting all of your news from one “point of view” or “bias” – whether that is Maddow or O’Reilly – you’re ill-equipped for the debate and all that’s left is snark.
    To bring it back into a present issue- if all you heard and read was that people who’s point of view you trust  (Monbiot/Brand) told you someone was a liar (Brand/Monbiot) you wouldn’t have the slightest idea why anyone was disagreeing with “the truth… as he sees it” and might conclude the rest of the world was mad or stupid. Sound familiar?
    Cocooning kills credibility, creates unnecessary partisanship, and distracts from real issues.

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