In the last installment of the Fox News-fueled controversy involving the rapper Common's appearance last week at a White House poetry reading, Bill O'Reilly had challenged Comedy Central's Jon Stewart to debate the issue on his 8 p.m. Fox show, "The O'Reilly Factor."
At issue is Common's sympathy for two convicted cop killers, Mumia Abu Jamal and Assata Shakur, who have both long had the support of left-wing activists who believe neither received a fair trial. O'Reilly argued last week that it was unacceptable for the White House to have hosted Common. Stewart argued that O'Reilly and his Fox News colleagues were simply manufacturing the controversy to pump up ratings and viewer outrage.
O'Reilly and Stewart have a curious love-hate relationship. Each host's past appearances on the other's show have made for great TV, and Monday night was no exception. Fox News pre-taped the interview and broke it into two parts. The first aired last night in two clips (see Part One above, and Part Two after the jump, below). The second half of the exchange will air on "The O'Reilly Factor" tonight. Here's a recap of round one:
Monday's segment began with Stewart clarifying why he believes Common has advocated for Shakur.
"What I think he's doing is not celebrating, but honoring someone he believes was wrongly convicted of cop killing," said the "Daily Show" host. "I think he believes she was convicted unjustly."
Maybe so--but O'Reilly fired back by arguing that the White House unfairly validated and elevated Common as a poet. "Do you know how many poets would have liked to have been there?" he said. "Why did he get that honor in your opinion?"
"Because I think he's not defined as an artist by this Assata Shakur case," said Stewart.
To illustrate his point, Stewart brought up Leonard Peltier, the Native American activist convicted of killing two FBI agents: "Guess who wrote a song about Leonard Peltier? [U2's] Bono. Guess where he was? The White House."
"Boo-yah!" Stewart exclaimed in mock triumph. (In a mock-pedagogic aside to O'Reilly he explained: "That's a rap word.")
Stewart then cited Bob Dylan as another White House-honored artist who had composed a song about a convicted killer--the former boxer Rubin "Hurricane" Carter. (Carter's conviction was overturned on a procedural question in 1985.)
Which brought him to the crux of his argument: "There is a selective outrage machine here at Fox that pettifogs only when it suits the narrative that suits them," he said. "This guy is in the cross hairs in a way that he shouldn't be, whether you agree with him or not."
You can watch the second part of the first part of their debate below, starting at the 6:15 mark:
The interview generated strong reactions online. The Nation's Ari Melber called it "a virtuoso duel where comedy eviscerated farce." Business Insider's Glynnis MacNicol applauded both hosts for producing a feature "that shows ... opposite sides of the political spectrum partaking in intelligent discussion. Emphasis on intelligent."
As for how many people were watching, if Stewart's last appearance on "The O'Reilly Factor" is any indication, you can expect higher than usual ratings for Monday's and tonight's editions of the show.