Jon Stewart and Bill O’Reilly filled the partisan divide with sass and snarky quips Saturday at Lisner Auditorium, rarely straying from their political corners while jousting on the national debt and government spending.
Though the media titans sometimes reach for a common ground in their appearances together, Stewart and O’Reilly found little agreement in the highly publicized debate they dubbed “The Rumble in the Air-Conditioned Auditorium.”
“I’ve come tonight to plead to the mayor of bullshit mountain. Talk to your people,” Stewart said, standing in front of an elaborate red, white and blue backdrop. “On bullshit mountain, our problems are amplified and our solutions are simplified.”
On national debt and entitlement spending, the duo wrestled over how much to blame former President George W. Bush.
Stewart said talking about the $10 trillion of debt amassed by the end of the Bush presidency put the issue in context, and could not be blamed on Obama.
But O’Reilly snapped back: “C’mon, it’s ridiculous. It doesn’t matter what Bush did. It’s the job of the president now to bring the debt under control. You have to cut stuff!”
Mirroring Wednesday’s debate between President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, talk of domestic issues anchored the hour-long debate.
CNN news anchor E.D. Hill, who moderated what she called a “fight between two teenage boys,” stuck with questions centered around the role of government in the early rounds.
“We’re an entitlement nation. We were born that way,” said Stewart, who stood on a pedestal to make up the vast height difference between the two personalities. “Have you ever seen Oprah’s favorite things episode?”
But while Stewart said the most applause-riling lines, like that “The first sentence of the constitution mentions ‘union’ and ‘welfare,’” O’Reilly brushed him off. The Fox News pundit even pointed out the Comedy Central star’s mix-up of the national debt and deficit.
The two found the most common ground in foreign policy, with both men blasting the way Obama handled the murder of American diplomats in Libya.
In a press conference after the debate, Stewart and O’Reilly said even though nothing in the debate changed their minds on the issues, the discussion was an example of constructive discourse.
But O’Reilly said Stewart had a natural advantage debating at GW.
“I knew coming into a university would be favorable to Stewart, but I also knew the man needs every advantage he could get,” O’Reilly said.
The Rumble offered a limited number of $25 student tickets, which sold out in just hours, as did general admissions tickets in the 1,500 seat auditorium.
It also offered a live-stream version on its website for $4.95, but technical difficulties prevented many from tuning in. Dozens of students took to Twitter and Facebook griping that they could not access the live-stream.
An event official who declined to provide his name said the glitch was caused by high traffic from the hundreds of thousands of people pouring online to stream the event at 8 p.m. – more viewers than expected.
O’Reilly said at the press conference that anyone frustrated by the technical glitch could get their $4.95 back if they wanted.
Profits from the ticket and online sales will be donated to charities chosen by Stewart and O’Reilly, including Project A.L.S., Doctors Without Borders and the Fisher House Foundation.
Saturday’s debate was not nearly the first time O’Reilly and Stewart tangled together onstage. The pair has squared off several times on television, and although their political stripes starkly contrast, the two have developed a friendly chemistry.
The relationship between the partisan foes nevertheless is symbiotic, as Stewart quipped in his last “O’Reilly Factor” appearance: “You love me…you want this date to go on forever.”
Stewart also made headlines – and racked up YouTube hits – when he was on the Foggy Bottom Campus for a taping of the CNN pundit show “Crossfire” in 2004 and admonished hosts Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson for perpetuating a partisan media landscape. The show – and the GW internships and courses that complemented it – was canceled less than a year later.
He also performed at Colonials Weekend in 2009, and joined former President Bill Clinton and other international leaders on campus at the Clinton Global Initiative University conference.