Tonight was the first half of Jon Stewart's two-night appearance on The O'Reilly Factor. We were very excited: Would Stewart bust out a smackdown of Jim Cramer-sized proportions? Would Bill O'Reilly lose his shit? Was it being broadcast in 3-D?
Let's get ready to have a debate on a prime-time cable news show!!!
It's not the first time our two combatants have met in the Factor's bright blue ring. At the height of the 2004 presidential election, Stewart sat down with O'Reilly. In that conversation, Stewart fought like a trained monkey—whenever O'Reilly tried to drill down, Stewart batted away his questions with silly quips, clearly unwilling to cop to any serious role. But that was before Stewart eviscerated Cross-fire, and before his brilliant bout against Jim "Mad Money" Cramer. Today, Stewart's a double-threat: A deadly combo of silly jokes backed up by the ability to go serious when he thinks something is hurting America. Bill O'Reilly, meanwhile, has been working out his shouting muscles nightly in advance of the match. (You will see they are very strong.)
The O'Reilly/Stewart face-off tonight was funny and mean, but way less uncomfortable than we expected. It was pretty much as civil as any O'Reilly interview. Stewart offered a firm critique of Fox, ("They have taken reasonable concerns about this president and this economy and turned it into full-fledged panic attack about the next coming of Chairman Mao.") but this was no Cross-fire take-down. O'Reilly defended his network at full shout but was content with mainly taking a bunch of cheap shots at The Daily Show. In fact O'Reilly took the whole thing a degree less seriously than Stewart—basically a mirror image of 2004.
Anyway: FIGHT! [Ding! Ding!]
Here's the full two-part interview, or scroll down for a blow-by-blow of the best parts. (And stay tuned for round two tomorrow):
O'Reilly starts with a jab at The Daily Show's audience, a bunch of Obama-lovers sitting "on their little bleachers" waiting to clap at Jon Stewart saying nice things about Obama. All this as a sneaky way to set up the question "how's Obama doing?" Point, O'Reilly
Stewart answers O'Reilly's with a thoughtful swipe: He likes Obama's regulatory mechanisms. (Which, that's what you like?) Opens up a big hole here for O'Reilly to drive an anti-Big Government rant into, but he went for the cheap shot instead, asking Stewart "Did your writers come up with that?" O'Reilly was in fact surprisingly non-combative when it came to Stewart's analysis of the Obama presidency. Point, Stewart
Jon Stewart pretended his hands were spiders after talking about Obama's health care bill. Point, Stewart.
We get to the perennial influence question: Does Jon Stewart have an influence on people? Another cheap O'Reilly Shot: "That is frightening... do you understand the implications of you being important in any context?" Stewart did the only thing possible to do with such a dumb question: made a joke out of it. Point, Stewart.
Alright, after a few minutes of sizing each other up, Stewart and O'Reilly start brawling proper. O'Reilly throws a recent poll in Stewart's face that shows Fox is America's most trusted news source. On cable news, a poll is the equivalent of a folding chair wrapped in barbed wire, and the chair is on fire. But Stewart responds with a zinger: "I believe Fox News sells the clearest narrative of any 'news organization' if that's... are you still referring to it in that manner?" Verbal scare quotes are like a handgun. Point, Stewart.
Now O'Reilly is seeing red. He's got a point in calling out "The Daily Show" for not making fun of CNN and MSNBC as much as they do Fox. (It is always annoying when Stewart tries to pretend he doesn't take sides.) Plus, O'Reilly making good uses of his imposing physical presence here—really using the space. Point, O'Reilly
Here's what Fox has done, through their cyclonic perpetual emotional machine that is 24 hours a day, 7 days a week: They have taken reasonable concerns about this president and this economy and turned it into full-fledged panic attack about the next coming of Chairman Mao.