The Debate You Really Want to Watch: Stewart vs. O’Reilly

On Saturday satire goes toe to toe with punditry when multiple Emmy winner and political comedy guru, Jon Stewart, goes up against Fox’s noble newsman, Bill O’Reilly, in a 90 minute debate. The Rumble in the Air-conditioned Auditorium will live stream for $4.95 on Saturday at 8:00 p.m. with a portion of proceeds going to charity.

So what is this debate really all about and will it overshadow the “real” political debates airing these weeks?

Let’s start by asking what the debate is really all about. Are Stewart and O’Reilly trying to upstage the candidates by actually putting on a good show where issues are actually discussed with some depth? Or is this just more of the ratings race to attract viewers? Can it be both of these at the same time? And more importantly, are we witnessing the final move where political commentary and entertainment are forever entwined?

We can’t answer those questions without stopping to point out that there is a big difference between the two players in this performance. Stewart is a satirist with a show on Comedy Central and O’Reilly is billed as a respected news source on Fox, but many consider him one of the loudest voices in bloviating punditry. O’Reilly wants to be taken seriously and he gets agitated when he is accused of being nothing more than a fear-mongering, fact-bending, blowhard. Stewart, in contrast, is first and foremost a satirist, which means that he wants to get his audience to think while giving them comic relief.

The difference between them is crucial since it marks out what’s at stake. If Stewart gets viewers to think about politics and understand issues while he entertains them that is just pure gravy. And, of course, Stewart has lately gone more directly at political commentary, at times leaving the comedy a bit on the back burner. And it is that blurriness for Stewart that will make this debate even more entertaining for us all to watch. Over the years we have watched O’Reilly and Stewart develop a real camaraderie, albeit one that involves deep ideological opposition. Stewart’s crossing over more and more into direct political commentary, rather than satirical commentary can be seen here in his recent interview on O’Reilly’s show when they pitched the debate:

The more perplexing part of the story is O’Reilly’s fascination with Stewart and his willingness to take Stewart seriously whether as an adversary or a colleague. Watch how chummy he is with Stewart when he appeared on his show:

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