When I heard that Jon Stewart was going to sit down for an interview with Bill O’Reilly I had to tune in. As a comic I have a great respect for Stewart. We couldn’t be further apart on a number of political issues but along with Lewis Black and Will Durst he is a left wing comic who isn’t afraid to skewer his own side when it needs it. He’s not exactly an equal opportunity mocker but at least he is willing to admit his side has a few dunderheads too. He cut his comedy teeth on the club circuit and has great writing and performance chops.
Bill O’Reilly is a sharp interviewer and most of the times willing to ask the tough questions and not worry if the guest will be coming back. I think it will be a long time until President Obama has the cajones for a round two with Mr. O’Reilly. John McCain didn’t even have the spine for round one. It is also obvious that Mr. O’Reilly and Mr. Stewart have a mutual respect and a good relationship. I think a few times during the interview it kept Mr. O’Reilly from following up with Stewart and let his lay down a few years of liberal rubber in the “no spin zone.” At times it seemed more Leno Show that news interview. When Stewart accused Fox News of being a “cyclonic perpetual emotional machine that is 24 hours a day, 7 days a week…” it didn’t seem that O’Reilly his new buddy Glenn Beck’s back as much as I would have liked him to, but hey that’s just me. That is my only criticism of this otherwise funny and enjoyable two day interview. It was excellent television.
I give Mr. O’Reilly full marks for the show! It’s tough to do a serious interview with a comedian. If you ask him a question and he doesn’t want to answer he always has the option of going for the joke. Stewart did this a number of times which has a way of putting even the best interviewer off the track. The “comic option” also allows a comedian being interviewed to bend and misstate the fact and if called on it he can always hide behind the joke. For example when Stewart called O’Reilly “the voice of reason” on Fox News, Mr. O’Reilly asked about Greta Van Susteren. Stewart, realizing that there were others on Fox who many might be considered reasonable parried with a joke.
The real problem with interviewing a guy like Jon Stewart is that nobody wants to hear a comedian be serious. The portion of the interview where Stewart tries to give serious critiques of policy show that he lacks depth of understanding of critical issues. A lot of Mr. Stewart’s answers to Mr. O’Reilly’s more serious questions lacked, and here is your O’Reilly “Word of the Day, verisimilitude!