Author: Henry Dickmeyer
What’s the difference between Jon Stewart and Bill O’Reilly?
One runs a political satire program that pinpoints absurdity through juxtaposed news clips and exploits of cognitive dissonance. The other is the face of a “fair and balanced” ideologic powerhouse, wherein he meticulously (and angrily) deconstructs arguments by scripting himself a victory. Frustrated progressives take refuge in Stewart’s bashes at Fox News – the channel whose audience predominantly comprises the other side of the aisle. But this Saturday, Stewart and O’Reilly will face off in what they’re calling, “The Rumble in the Air-Conditioned Auditorium,” a 60 minute mock debate held at George Washington University. It’ll be full of passive-aggressive banter, intelligence, stubbornness and wit but, above all, a fair and balanced look at American politics.
And no, it won’t be fair in the sense that a seemingly liberal commentator will draw swords with the face of conservative commentary. One could watch the Massachusetts State Senate race for that brawl, where Senator Scott Brown has been incessantly scrutinizing Elizabeth Warren’s Native American heritage. Stewart would respond to the incident by writing a sketch about his correspondents telling him he doesn’t look Jewish enough for political satire. O’Reilly, conversely, would assemble a punditocracy to liken the debacle to Obama birther conspiracies.
Albeit a diluted form of entertainment, that type of debate is precisely what Stewart and O’Reilly are trying to distance themselves from. They don’t want to give the answers that their side wants to hear – they want to give the answers that their side needs to hear, which is the same message: take the two-team scenario out of the political equation.
Contrary to popular opinion, O’Reilly is a self-proclaimed “traditionalist,” not the orthodox conservative many set him out to be. O’Reilly deviates from traditional conservatism on issues such as global warming, gun control and the death penalty. Stewart, refusing to politicize himself, has been a force behind criticisms of both liberal and conservative demagoguery. To label Stewart and O’Reilly as modern-day Democrats and Republicans (respectively) would go against the honesty that the two figures want infused with American political doctrine.
While both sides appear to appease their polarized bases, they don’t do so in order to promote a specific agenda. For instance, consider the discrepancies between the audiences. O’Reilly’s target audience is the conservative and/or elderly, whereas Stewart appeals to the fifty and under population. O’Reilly doesn’t have to be the hip commentator because he’s not on a comedy station; he’s angry, brash, and relentlessly resolute, sometimes to point of disrespect. Stewart, on the other hand, is a comedian. His hip irreverence and pop-culture references make the commentator appealing to the youth, particularly the liberal base he’s steadily built up. It’s only natural to align them with the political beliefs of their target audiences.
Nonetheless “The Rumble,” just like the other long-lasting meetings between the two figures, will be less of a debate and more of a call for proper political discourse. When the two meet up on each other’s talk shows, it feels as if party alignment is thrown out the window. O’Reilly’s “No Spin Zone” puts Jon Stewart on the edge of his seat, ready to defend himself during the carefully scripted debate that O’Reilly is so used to winning. “The Daily Show” interview desk, just like its segments, has put O’Reilly in uncomfortable places, for instance in a 2008 conversation concerning the meaning of American “tradition” in terms of same-sex marriage. Both are frustrated; both get emotional about politics and irrationality; and both want change, whether it derives from voter intelligence, political honesty or both.
Do Stewart and O’Reilly represent opposites on the political spectrum? Not necessarily. If the spectrum measures honesty with both the public and oneself, they have the same dog in the fight. When butting heads, the two fight for the future of informed, spirited and concerned discourse. Without recognizing this truth, an O’Reilly-Stewart rumble is merely a fill-in-the-blank Republican-Democrat event.
Henry Dickmeyer is an undeclared sophomore. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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