Jon Stewart and Bill O’Reilly faced off Saturday night in “The Rumble in the Air-Conditioned Auditorium.” They may have literally kept their cool, but the two TV hosts got riled up—with a generous serving of good humor, of course. Stewart’s opening line: “My friend Bill O’Reilly is completely full of shit.” But if you thought Jim Lehrer had it bad, try controlling these two hot-tempered New Yorkers. Moderater E.D. Hill could be found feverishly ringing the bell in an attempt to steer Stewart and O’Reilly back into a line of questioning. Here are the best moments from the O’Reilly-Stewart smackdown. Let’s just say Mitt Romney could learn a thing or two about zingers from these guys.
The Big Bird Question
It’s not a debate without Big Bird. Stewart made clear he didn’t think funding for public broadcasting was significant enough to be arguing over, asking, “We are only weeks from becoming a failed state or even worse Greece and the only way to solve it is to kill Big Bird?” O’Reilly disagreed and came prepared with signs to illustrate his point, and one asked, “WHY IS NPR GETTING OUR MONEY?” In typical fashion, Stewart paused for dramatic effect. “I don't know that I have time to unpack this, but the reasons that we invest in things like public television is that it brings educational programs to people who might not have them,” he said. O’Reilly made his second (of three) Sandra Fluke jokes of the night, yelling, “Do you know how many birth-control pills $130 million buys?!”
Doing Research on Disability
Well this is awkward. Apparently Stewart did his homework on O’Reilly’s background and caught the Fox anchor a bit off guard. As the two debated entitlements, O’Reilly made his view very clear, asserting that Americans shouldn’t assume they’re entitled to anything, and the Obama administration has been perpetuating this belief by doling out welfare and disability funds. But, as Stewart pointed out, O’Reilly’s dad had received disability from his company after leaving. This infuriated O’Reilly, who claimed his counterpart didn’t understand the difference between the private and public sectors. Also, “nobody begrudges people who are ill on the job,” O’Reilly shot back. “You just did! You’re begrudging!” Stewart yelled.
Bush’s Legacy? Who Cares
If O’Reilly’s “Bush Is Gone” sign didn’t clue you in, he doesn’t think the legacy of former presidents is relevant to the current political conversation. When Stewart tried to compare the current administration’s response to embassy attacks with those of Ronald Reagan’s and Bush’s, O’Reilly was quick to point out he was misusing “ancient history.” “Why are you holding one president to the standard of another?” he asks Stewart. Voices raised, Hill tried to gain control of her debaters, yelling, “Bill, be quiet!” She was ignored.
Fox News Gets Stewart
What’s wrong with the media? O’Reilly said his network has become successful because it allows viewpoints that are stifled by the liberal media. Stewart took a shot at Fox’s viewership. “I think any time you run an organization where more people believe the president is a Muslim than believe in evolution, that’s a problem.” O’Reilly declared victory at the end of the question, with a satisfied, “Ah, I got him.”
The Constitution Owes Me
What should the government have to give us in the Constitution? “Unions and welfare,” Stewart answered. “Blame the founders.” He explained that the country can only be as good as its weakest link, which enraged O’Reilly, who shot back (as Stewart was performing his happy dance), “This man has offended every single American by saying we’re only as good as our weakest link.” But he recovered enough to make a joke: “We're only as weak as CNN?” The two set off into a back-and-forth zingerfest, with Stewart wondering which government department he can blame his shortness on.
After a fun break of discussing the war on Christmas (“Walk a mile in Hannukah’s shoes!” Stewart said), the two were back to the cutting board on issues of government-controlled medical care. O’Reilly joked that he felt like he was sitting next to Deepak Chopra and started imitating the doctor’s New Age beliefs.
Love in a Time of Debate
The two had some touching moments where they put aside their differences, like when Stewart hopped onto O’Reilly’s lap. Answering audience questions, they were instructed to say what they respect most about their opponent. “I appreciate the fact that a man built like a yeti can move so fluidly,” said Stewart. And O’Reilly responded, “I admire someone who’s been in rehab six times and is still as successful as Stewart is.” Jokes aside, Stewart called O’Reilly “smart and funny” while O’Reilly praised the Comedy Central host for his support of the troops.