Jon Stewart to Rachel Maddow: You guys went a little overboard with the "teabagger" thing, don't you think?

He’s right — if you accept his premise that calling tea partiers “teabaggers” is meant chiefly as a joke. In that case, yeah, it gets old quickly. But that’s not its main purpose; if it was, you wouldn’t see Obama dropping it into interviews or U.S. senators including it in fundraising e-mails. The point of the term is to deride, not to get a laugh, and the shelf life of derisive terms is a lot, lot longer than the shelf life for cheap gags. “Wingnut” ceased being funny years ago and yet somehow it crawls on, ever ready to signal to listeners that, no siree, its user certainly does not think much of those darned conservatives.

The “teabagger” bit comes at the very beginning of this longer clip, which is itself just the last part of a five-segment interview Maddow did with Stewart yesterday. It’s worth watching all nine minutes, as they touch on Stewart’s “clown nose off, clown nose on” style and whether maybe Maddow should be less of a clown herself. The one place where she nails him, I think, is when he insists that news hosts like her, Olby, O’Reilly, etc, are players on the field whereas he’s just a fan in the stands, cheering or heckling as necessary. That is to say, they’re the media and he’s a media critic, and just as we don’t hold Roger Ebert to the same standards as the films he reviews, we shouldn’t measure Stewart and Maddow by the same yardstick. The problem with that analogy, of course, is that (a) The Daily Show’s criticism is presented in the same format as the material it’s satirizing, and (b) according to some viewers, especially younger ones, it does a better job of delivering the news in a less partisan fashion than the crap on the news nets. Imagine if, instead of writing a column, Roger Ebert reviewed films by directing video commentaries with a $100 million budget and plenty of F/X. That’s more like what “The Daily Show” does. Would it be fair to judge such “commentaries” as films in their own right? Sure. Which is why TDS and its comparatively much more buffoonish quasi-competitors like “Countdown” are increasingly lumped together.

Stewart also seems to think he qualifies more as a fan than as a player because, even at his rally, he never took the final step of endorsing any candidates or any parties or even any policies. Really? We all know where he stands, I think, just as we all knew where Olbermann stood before he made that plain by donating to Democrats. Are you on the team if you’re on the field and in uniform but never actually get up to bat? I’d say yes, but YMMV.