Stewart, O'Reilly Rumble at Mock Debate

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Oct. 7 2012 10:14 AM

Stewart-O’Reilly Rumble: Short on Laughs, Big on Frustration (for Online Viewers)

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Jon Stewart had a mechanical pedestal that often made the 5’7” comedian seem taller than the 6’4” Bill O’Reilly

Photo by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for The Rumble 2012

The much-hyped mock debate between Jon Stewart and Bill O’Reilly billed as the Rumble in the Air-Conditioned Auditorium saw the two longtime frenemies face off before a packed auditorium at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. Saturday night. The main audience for the event was supposed to be online but those who forked up $4.95 to stream the debate online, were often met with frustration as servers seemingly crashed from the demand. Many fans took to Twitter and Facebook to air their rage, many saying they had planned their Saturday night around the rumble. Even Roger Ebert was none too happy.

The Washington Post treats the gabfest between two TV personalities almost like a real debate, publishing three separate stories on the matchup, including “five takeaways” and “best one-liners.” And it makes sense considering that it really wasn’t as funny as many were expecting if you consider that the exchanges most critics pinpoint as the funniest (“perhaps most humorous,” writes Daniel Steinberger at ABC News) involved Stewart repeatedly making a joke of how at 5’7” he was much shorter than the 6’4” O’Reilly. Stewart even had a handy mechanical pedestal that he used to elevate himself, often making him taller than O’Reilly. Those who were expecting more humor were likely disappointed. Besides the gags involving the forklift “most of the jokes, particularly those of O’Reilly, didn’t land,” writes the Wrap’s Brent Lang.

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Instead of jokes there was a “frequently substantive debate,” as the New York Times’ Emmarie Huetteman writes, on everything from the national debt, health care, the war on Christmas, and the Middle East. There was some confusion showing how even those who talk about news for a living can get events mixed up. At one point, as the Guardian points out, Stewart asked about the deadly consulate attack in Libya and O’Reilly talked about the Egyptian embassy. At another point the two “got bogged down sorting out the difference between the debt and the deficit,” writes the Washington Post’s Dan Zak.

The first hour of the debate was divided into five, 12-minute segments. Moderator E.D. Hill from CNN largely stood out of the way, with O’Reilly asking at one point, “Are you still there?” After the first hour at the podium the two took pre-selected questions from the audience. At the end of the night, Hill asked what each learned from the other person.

“I have learned that bullshit mountain is tall, bullshit mountain is wide, and it's deep,” Stewart said. For his part, O’Reilly said: “That I know I’m right.” They both received a “championship belt” from Hill at the end of the night.

In a press conference after the debate, O’Reilly apologized to those who couldn’t watch the debate live online. "Hundreds of thousands of people tried to get on, so the server crashed,” O’Reilly said, before sarcastically adding that if "anybody wants the $4.95 back, we'll send it to you," according to ABC News. But it wasn’t a joke. Organizers said those who had problems with the live stream will be eligible for a refund, reports the Associated Press.

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the "Today's Papers" column from 2006 to 2009. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoliti.

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