Bill O'Reilly and Jon Stewart onstage at "The Rumble In The Air-Conditioned… (Amie McCarthy / Getty Images )
WASHINGTON — Cable television heavyweights Jon Stewart and Bill O’Reilly faced off Saturday night in “The Rumble in the Air-Conditioned Auditorium,” with the ideological opponents, by turns blunt and vulgar, debating everything from the economy to entitlements.
The event, hosted by George Washington University in Washington, D.C., presented a chance for the two politically charged talk show hosts to try to persuade each other to move to the opposite side of the spectrum. Not surprisingly, that part was a bust.
“My friend Bill O’Reilly is full of ... ” Stewart said at the start of his introductory remarks, helping set the tone.
The “Daily Show” host centered his remarks around the idea that many on the right live in an “alternate reality,” of which O’Reilly is allegedly the mayor. It’s a place, Stewart declared, where “problems are amplified, solutions simplified.” The name Stewart gave O’Reilly’s domicile was somewhat more spicy, but you get the drift.
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O’Reilly, host of the Fox News show “The O’Reilly Factor,” pulled no punches either, accusing Stewart of defending an addled, entitlement-laden society, the “poster child” of which is Sandra Fluke. Fluke, the Georgetown law student who came under attack from Rush Limbaugh after she spoke out on behalf of contraception coverage, is the embodiment of a country that is “lazy,” “mooching” and overly dependent on the federal government, he said.
“Buy your own,” O’Reilly intoned as he read from one of his many flashcard props.
Stewart, defending Fluke and government spending for things such as public broadcasting from being placed on O’Reilly’s rhetorical chopping block, said that the U.S. already is an “entitlement nation” -- citing Social Security and Medicare and, to roaring applause from the audience, the bailout of Wall Street during the recent financial crash.
On most issues, O’Reilly and Stewart bickered without any agreement – with the Fox News host calling for complete privatization of healthcare and Stewart endorsing a single-payer system, O’Reilly blaming unrest in the Middle East partially on President Obama being “weak” and Stewart citing a need for the U.S. to decouple from newly democratized countries. And so on.
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But there was some common ground to be found.
“We should never have gone to Iraq,” O’Reilly said, to Stewart’s visible — if mock — shock, and agreement.
And both expressed their respect for, and emphasized the need to help, America’s troops, with O’Reilly praising Stewart for his planned visit with a number of soldiers Sunday.
The debate was not altogether focused on the issues; the two threw in several jokes. Stewart, who often mocks his short stature, stood on a rising platform for comedic effect. And O’Reilly, asked what was the most valuable thing he learned during the debate, laughed and said, “Now I know I’m right.”
The sold-out crowd paid upwards of $100 to attend the Rumble, which is also available for downloading, for a fee. Half of the net profits are designated for a series of charities chosen by Stewart and O’Reilly, including the Wounded Warrior Project, the Fisher House Foundation, Doctors Without Borders, the Bob Woodruff Foundation and the USO.
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