In a highly anticipated showdown Saturday night, Jon Stewart, host of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show,” and Bill O’Reilly, host of Fox’s “The O’Reilly Factor,” met in a debate dubbed: “The Rumble in the Air Conditioned Auditorium.”
The event was styled similarly to a presidential debate, running almost exactly ninety minutes, and utilizing former Fox News host E.D. Hill as a moderator. .
The night played out as more of a discussion between two men of very different political beliefs than a formal debate between two men running for office.
Nevertheless, it drew crowds. Organizers of the event reported that about 1,500 people packed the sold out auditorium at George Washington University, and online-viewership, which cost $4.95 to stream, was so high that it crashed the website’s server.
At Penn State, an event hosted by the Center for Democratic Deliberation streamed the debate live in an equally crowded Sparks Building lecture hall.
Sophia McClennen, professor of International Affairs and Comparative Literature at Penn State, began by providing the audience with a brief history of Stewart and O’Reilly’s past duels, explaining how the two had first met in 2001.
“Each obviously has a tremendous respect for the other, even though the ‘Daily Show’ consistently makes fun of ‘The Factor,’ ” McClennen said.
McClennen then spoke of how there has been a fundamental shift in the way the public gets their information, citing that nowadays, people go directly to the satire shows to get their news, rather than actual news programs.
McClennen critiqued last week’s presidential debate, and how it related to the one she expected to see between O’Reilly and Stewart.
“It used to be that debates were great sources of facts and statistics, but they have now become so warped and uninformative,” McClennen said. “I think that for many, part of the appeal of tonight’s debate is that it might provide a better picture of the political situation, or at least one that will be more engaging.”
Jacqueline Howard (junior–English) said she came to see the debate mostly to dodge the $4.95 fee associated with online streaming, but also because of her interest in politics. Howard said politics is important to her and her family, and wanted to compare Saturday’s debate with Wednesday’s presidential one.
O’Reilly kicked the night off by mocking Stewart with simple cue cards with sayings like “Bush is gone,” and “Debt is bad.”
Stewart then retorted by first raising his 5-foot-7 frame up to O’Reilly’s 6-foot-4 height using a mechanical platform that had been hidden underneath his podium.
He later went on to detail his goals for the night, and said he agreed to do the debate in an effort to raise awareness of a place he affectionately called, “Bullsh—t Mountain.” He described this place as one where, problems are amplified and solutions are simplified.
“I have come tonight to plead with the mayor of Bullsh—t Mountain, whom I believe we can bring down,” Stewart said, pointing to O’Reilly.
After the initial laughs, however, the debate took on a more serious tone. The two men toiled over issues ranging from the national debt to Medicare.
One particular topic that was centered upon was the role of entitlement in America. Both men agreed that America has become a nation of entitlement, yet O’Reilly criticized Obama, saying the president has made it easier for people to feed off those who are more successful, citing that the government now “advertises for food stamps on the radio.”
Stewart retorted this point, saying Obama hasn’t made anything easier.
“Why is it that when you’re a corporation and you take advantage of a tax break, you’re a smart business man, but if you take advantage of something you need to not be hungry, you’re a moocher?” he asked.
Despite the banter, there were many moments in the debate where both men met in the middle.
At one point, O’Reilly conceded that he believed the war in Iraq was a mistake, something he had long argued in favor of. This prompted Stewart to climb up on his podium and beg someone to tweet what his opponent had just said.
In his closing statement, Stewart addressed the question what the best piece of advice he could give today’s youth would be.
Stewart said that despite much of the talk criticizing the current generation as one that feels entitled, he has the utmost faith in their ability.
“There is no time I would rather live in than now, and there is no generation I would rather entrust the future of this country with than this one,” Stewart said.
After the debate was over, the audience in Sparks Auditorium discussed who won the debate. Many voiced opinions that it would have been pointless to declare a winner, as the night wasn’t about winning or losing.
“There was a mutual feeling in the audience that the debate itself was more of a dialogue between two people who were trying to benefit America rather than trying to win support from an audience,” Debra Hawhee, a Penn State English professor , and coordinator of the event, said.
Hawhee said the night was a refreshing and uplifting one after watching the presidential debate last Wednesday.
“I really loved Stewart’s closing thoughts about how you can still have a real discussion with someone you disagree with,” she said. “I hope to see this idea become more accepted in the remainder of the election.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.