ABOUT THE QUICK TAKE
The Stewart vs. O’Reilly Debate aired a few days after the first presidential debate. This week, the Quick Take looks at which debate stimulated more conversation and provided more insight for viewers.
By Ethan McLeod
A little bit of humor evidently goes a long way when talking politics. Who would have thought that the debate between two of our nation’s most popular political television stars, Bill O’Reilly and Jon Stewart, could outperform the official showdown between the incumbent president and his challenger, Gov. Mitt Romney, from only a week before?
There is no arguing as to whether or not the presidential debate withholds tremendous importance to voters. The implications of the Romney-Obama debate were far greater than those of the “Rumble in the Air-Conditioned Auditorium,” particularly in an election year with such a polar divide between candidates, issues and voters. There was a certain ironic seriousness to the laid-back discussion between the two political television stars that was lacking in the presidential debate.
The largest distinction between the two debates was the verbal freedom afforded to the speakers. The official nature of the presidential debate was, by comparison, a stifling and aggressive environment for discussion. The presidential debate etiquette of today enforces a fear of being politically incorrect on camera, and a resulting failure to move beyond party lines when discussing issues. There remains no doubt that Romney and Obama fell victim to this in the pressure cooker that was the auditorium at the University of Denver.
Romney and Obama hovered around mostly financial issues concerning the economy, unemployment and even public television funding. While the economic heart of their debate guaranteed an aggressive discussion, they paid sparse attention to other social issues as well as the conflicts in the Middle East. A comparison of the debates shows how the surplus of numbers and figures (many of which needed to be checked afterward) stunted the quality of the candidates’ debate.
Stewart and O’Reilly, by contrast, relied on their humorous jabs at one another to drive a debate that discussed a much more diverse array of issues than the presidential candidates, from war in the Middle East to welfare and even the heavy political media bias of cable news networks. Stewart and O’Reilly used clever mockery of one another’s political leanings to play out a comparison of the two presidential candidates’ platforms.
The TV anchors picked apart conservative and liberal views about economic issues. Stewart drew heavily from recent history in addressing the current deficit, saying that former President George W. Bush created an “environment of entitlement” when he waged wars on Iran and Afghanistan with an already large deficit of $800 billion. The core of O’Reilly’s response was the allegation that Obama’s attempts to expand welfare have caused Americans to fall into a “safety net.”
Both debaters made bold claims about the heart of America’s financial crisis that they argued by drawing from history and personal conviction. “Iran is not frightened,” argued O’Reilly at one point, to which Stewart responded, “So the guy with the drone army is the one who’s soft on terror?”
O’Reilly and Stewart’s brash manner of debate produced a direct discussion along with endless entertainment for the audience. It is hard to say the same for Romney and Obama, whose congested debate remained stationary at certain points while the two candidates tossed facts and figures around in a verbal game of hot potato.
Despite the name of the event, one got the sense that O’Reilly and Stewart weren’t there to fight. There was little bullying, and what was there resembled something more like horseplay rather than the malicious back-and-forth of the presidential debate. Even if one of the speakers had an accusation directed toward his counterpart, the other was afforded an opportunity for rebuttal, and the debate would move onward. It was this combination of humor and forward motion of discussion that made the “Rumble in the Air-Conditioned Auditorium” the more substantial and informative debate.
Ethan McLeod is a junior in the School of Communication.
By Scott Weathers
This past week’s presidential debates saw Gov. Mitt Romney’s brash, bold attitude throughout a patently untruthful performance, and the Jon Stewart-Bill O’Reilly “Rumble in the Air-conditioned Auditorium” was memorable for much the same. While O’Reilly was rightfully scorned for his answers, as devoid of reason as they are, Stewart has made a successful media career out of brash, bold and, ultimately, pointless performances, only delivered in good conscious through comedy.
As someone who identifies politically as a liberal, I understand and agree with those who poke fun of O’Reilly’s attitude on air: unnecessarily loud, rude and inflammatory. I also watch Stewart occasionally and love his humor and ability to point out the utter ridiculousness of our political times.
However, it’s frustrating to see liberals content with Stewart coming out of this debate simply looking mightier. Sure, Stewart debunked many of O’Reilly’s factual errors and pointed out his inconsistencies, but has this made our lives better? This fascination with politics rarely glorifies solutions, but public victories that ultimately and decidedly serve no one. Until liberals and conservatives, content to play out their battles on their respective cable channels, are willing to admit that these sideshows distract from greater policy goals, there will be no solutions.
Stewart has partaken in these debates and, in his comedic goals, encouraged them to fester. Every exasperated complaint about the state of Hanukkah as compared to Christmas, for example, does nothing to resolve the reality that the “War on Christmas” is a meaningless debate meant to drive ratings. It makes no difference that Fox News is capitalizing on outrage and Stewart on comedy. Profiting off of dribble is knavery.
I recognize that Stewart will claim to be a comedian and not a public servant, and he will surely be successful. Stewart would be short-sighted to undercut himself. Celebrities that claim they are not role models deprive themselves of the possibility of improving the world. In a similar unhanding of personal responsibility, Stewart has ignored his ability to generate genuine social change. In one memorable, admirable act last year, Stewart nearly single-handedly saved the Zadroga Act from languishing in Congress, which gave medical care to many 9/11 first responders. There’s no reason this success can’t be replicated further.
It is time that Stewart stops finding himself satisfied to make fun of intentionally mindless, irrational media figures. Being an activist doesn’t mean sucking the fun out of everything, but taking action when no one else will.
Scott Weathers is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences