09/09/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

MSNBC, The Place For...Er...Um...Wha?

Does Jon Stewart watch MSNBC? It was hard to tell from his interview with David Gregory on Thursday. Anyone who has MSNBC on — even in the background — more than intermittently can't help but know that its slogan is "The Place For Politics," because the dayside anchors inevitably mention it every few segments, at least. It would also come up on primary and debate nights, which were sort of watched. Admittedly CNN's "The Best Political Team On Television" is a bit more in your face, but by now the slogans of the three cablers are well-known to those who watch (obligatory Fox: "America's Election Headquarters").

Which explains the are-you-kidding-me look of surprise on Gregory's face when Stewart innocently asked if MSNBC had a slogan. Here's how it went down:

Jon: Does NBC or MSNBC have they gone with a slogan yet? CNN has, I think, 'We're The Best News Team' and Fox you guys have,
Gregory (confused, disbelieving): We are -- I mean, you know it, right?
Stewart: No
Gregory: We are the "Place for Politics."
Stewart: Oh, I didn't realize that. Well, that's very exciting!

Ouch — that's awkward (especially considering the Daily Show's hilarious campaign to promote it's own "Best F*cking Political Team in the Universe" campaign). It's also a tad inconsistent, if only for the follow-up question about why MSNBC repeats the news ad infinitum during the 24-hour cycle (and the Daily Show's pretty regular-by-now use of Contessa Brewer moments for gentle mockery - I believe there was a shout-out for breaking news about a cat in a tree previously).

So clearly, some regular and repeated exposure to MSNBC is suggested here — so maybe this innocent question exposes Stewart as a non-news-watching teleprompter-reading dilettante? (Remember what he thinks of print! Which is to say, not much.) Or maybe he just tunes out the 24-hour drone. Sometimes you sort of have to, if you're ever going to get any work done. The point is, it was a mini branding ouch moment. That's all, really.

Actually, that's not all — because Gregory deserves some props for a damn good parry, followed by a pretty good offensive thrust. Stewart hit pretty pointedly at the structure of the cable nets — 24 hour news channel often with the same news on repeat ("How much is too much?"). See below:

Stewart: I honestly - I admire the fact that you have to kill - I mean, every day is a Jerry Lewis telethon for you guys.
Gregory: We don't look at it as killing time so much --
Stewart: I really do.

Ouch again. But Gregory's response was pretty reasonable, saying that not everyone was watching at the same time (or the whole day, which media/politics junkies do tend to forget). He also - reasonably - noted that "there are gradation of breaking news in a campaign environment." (What he didn't note — but I will — is that the 24-hour structure builds in the risk of a slow news day, i.e. filling time, to allow for instant - and constant - reporting of big, breaking news, like primaries or campaign stories or Reverend Wright or Eliot Spitzer or, last night, John Edwards. In other words, the cablers assume the risk of you tuning out when there's no news in order to be available for you when there is.)

Gregory's offensive came when Stewart aired a "gotcha" clip, a "Breaking News" alert where Brewer intoned that a plane in Morristown, New Jersey had just landed with Brett Favre on board. The clip was meant to demonstrate how banal the coverage could be, but here was Gregory's smart response:

Gregory: Can you play more of that? Because I want to see what actually happened. I wanted to find out more about --
Stewart: He got all the way down the stairs - and into a car -
Gregory: But was he traded before he got to where he was going? We don't know, because you cut it in a way to make a point.*

It was totally fair of Gregory to counter Stewart's "gotcha" with his own — rightly pointing out that the Daily Show's signature move is isolating snippets from cable and holding them up for ridicule. Out of context, of course, many of them aren't nearly as ridiculous — especially if they are setting up the news payoff (this would be akin to showing a clip of a Daily Show joke without the punchline, and then claiming that it wasn't funny). In this case, of course, that snippet is the punchline, but only when presented without the context of what actual news it relates to. Completely fair, but also completely fair of Gregory to call out.

Well! This post was just meant to note the non-penetration of "The Place for Politics" in Jon Stewarts media universe, but Gregory deserved some props there. Also, he's much more watchable when not reduced to a disembodied head floating in a box on screen. So there's that.

*NB: There was cross-talk here in the quoted passages, and I didn't transcribe it all, just the relevant points, but you can see for yourself above - that's what web video is for!.