By KAYLEE LAZZARO
“My friend Bill O’Reilly is completely full of sh**.”
With that statement, Jon Stewart set the playful yet combative tone of his Oct. 6 debate with Bill O’Reilly, dubbed “The Rumble in the Air-Conditioned Auditorium.”
Throughout the 90-minute paid online debate, Stewart, of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” and O’Reilly, of Fox News’s “The O’Reilly Factor,” humorously elucidated the two very different political ideologies that have polarized American politics in recent years.
“I think the whole thing was more interesting and honest than the presidential debate,” said Gina Lazzaro, 23, of Saddle Brook, N.J. “They weren’t just talking at each other with prepared talking points. It felt more real.”
The debate took place in George Washington University’s Lisner Auditorium and was moderated by CNN’s E.D. Hill. The first 60 minutes covered hot topic issues, including the economy, U.S. involvement in the Middle East, and media bias. For the last 30 minutes, Stewart and O’Reilly answered questions from the audience and online viewers.
Stewart, a known liberal, and O’Reilly, a known conservative, have had a longstanding relationship, and both men have frequented the other’s show. Bill O’Reilly appeared on the Oct. 4 taping of “The Daily Show” to promote the debate and his new book, “Killing Kennedy: The End of Camelot.” Stewart jokingly wondered if the book was a confession.
Both Stewart and O’Reilly brought props to the auditorium. O’Reilly used illustrated posters that said, among other things, “Debt is bad” and “Bush is gone.” Stewart, who is 5 feet 7 inches tall, brought an adjustable stool to compete with the 6-foot-4 O’Reilly.
“It was obviously meant to be entertaining, but I don’t think that made the debate less substantive. The humor made the arguments more impactful,” Lazzaro said.
Different Ideologies and an ‘Alternate Universe’
In his opening statement, O’Reilly argued that under President Barack Obama, the United States has become an “entitlement society.” He said the poster person for that society was Sandra Fluke, the Georgetown law student who received national media attention in February after speaking before Congress on the importance of contraception coverage by healthcare insurers. Fluke was subsequently called a slut and prostitute by right-wing commentator Rush Limbaugh.
Stewart responded to O’Reilly’s comments in his own opening statement.
“What is wrong with this country is not that we face problems we haven’t faced before. We face a deficiency in our problem-solving mechanism… [because] a good portion of this country has created an alternate universe in which the issues that we face revolve around a woman from Georgetown who wanted birth control – which is a health issue for woman – covered on her insurance in the same way that Viagra is covered by many others,” he said. “I call this alternate reality… Bullsh** Mountain.”
Though Stewart said he hoped to bring O’Reilly down from the mountain by the end of the debate, O’Reilly was unsurprisingly not swayed. When asked what he had learned from Stewart, O’Reilly said, “Now I know I’m right.”
Despite their differences, Stewart called O’Reilly smart and funny. “This idea that disagreeing with somebody – even vehemently, even to the core of your principle – means that you should not engage them is ridiculous. I have people in my own family who would make this guy look like Castro, and I love them,” Stewart said.
When asked what he respects about Stewart, O’Reilly simply said, “Stewart tomorrow is going to visit the wounded troops.”
Viewers also seem to have ended the event with a respect for both men. “I think both guys came out of the debate having said some smart things. I thought Stewart won, but my political views are more closely aligned with Stewart’s to begin with,” Lazzaro said.
Many viewers, who paid $4.95 to live stream the debate, had difficulty viewing the beginning, and can now either view the debate on demand or request a refund. Those interested in viewing the debate can still buy it on demand. Half of the net profits will be donated to charity. As the official poster explains, “It’s why Al Gore invented the Internet.”