Jon Stewart and Chris Wallace

I don't have time to do more than mention this, and it's all over everywhere in any case. But, seriously, sometime take a look at the Jon Stewart / Chris Wallace exchange this weekend on Fox. The 24 minute version is below, not the 14 minutes that was apparently on-air.



If you see nothing else (after the 30-second embedded intro ad), watch the three and a half minutes starting around time 6:45. What is most striking is Wallace's either feigned or genuine inability to grasp the main point Stewart is making, and making not once but about ten times. Stewart seems genuinely appalled by Wallace's "moral equivalence" riff between Fox News and Comedy Central. "You think we're the same?" Stewart says with real animus. And he goes on to lay out the difference between an operation whose goal is principally satirical, but from an ideological perspective, and one that is principally ideological and is satirical or comedic only as it helps toward that end.

The point is not really that difficult, and Stewart tries to illustrate it this way: "What am I, at my highest aspiration? Mark Twain? Or Edward R. Murrow?" Wallace correctly says "Twain" but seems not to register the larger point Stewart is making. Maybe that's him*; maybe it's a for-the-team game face. (The same "can he believe what he's saying?" issue comes up with Wallace's insistence that he was shocked and offended to have to watch South Park and didn't consider it funny.)

In any case, watch it some time if you can. For some other time: the way this clip reinforces the concept that you never change people's minds by scoring logic points or "arguing." You have to change the entire emotional/narrative game. More on that later.
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* For the record, Wallace was a fixture on the college radio station when I was on the college paper. I've known him slightly, then and since. Also for the record, I've been in several public disputes with his father, for reasons that began here.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.

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