MADDOW, STEWART, AND PARTISAN MEDIA…. As you’ve very likely heard, “The Rachel Maddow Show” was a little different last night, with a lengthy and fascinating conversation with Rachel and Jon Stewart. If you have time, I’d recommend checking out the 49-minute unedited version, which TRMS posted online.

The two covered quite a bit of ground, and I’m reluctant to focus on just one small portion, but there was an exchange that stood out for me. Stewart was holding out Fox News as a unique example in American media, but he argued that other outlets occasionally “fight fire with fire” and borrow a page from the FNC playbook.

Rachel noted that there’s a difference between “having a point of view and being a partisan.” Stewart agreed. Rachel added that she’s a liberal, but doesn’t consider Democrats her “team,” referencing a word Stewart had used earlier.

He replied, “Fox is not partisan, either. They’re really not…. They’re ideological, but I don’t know that they’re partisan.”

Stewart made a lot of important observations in this interview, some of which I strongly agreed with. But on this, I think he’s badly mistaken. In fact, I’d argue he has it backwards — Fox News isn’t ideological, it’s partisan. It exists for a purely partisan reason — helping Republicans. It’s why the network is run by Republicans; it’s why the network hires Republicans; it’s why the network’s personalities run as Republicans, donate to Republicans, and endorse Republicans.

Ideology, as best as I can tell, is almost beside the point. If the Republican Party establishment were to decide today that it was wrong and that same-sex couples should be allowed to legally marry, Sean Hannity would be on the air tonight explaining what a triumph this is for the “party of freedom.”

The Republican Party sets the agenda for Fox News, and in recent years, vice versa. When the network airs GOP talking points — literally as on-air graphics, complete with the typos sent to Fox News by Republican officials — it’s a reminder that their raison d’etre is partisan, not ideological.

There was a lot more to the Maddow/Stewart interview, but I thought this point was worth clarifying.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.