Monday night, “Daily Show” host Jon Stewart made good on his promise to debate Fox News host Bill O’Reilly over the now stale “controversy” surrounding rapper Common’s invitation to a White House poetry event. Yes, this is still going on.
Neither man saw the other’s light or renounced his opinion. But at least the interview provided an opportunity to look up the definition of “pettifog” — “to bicker or quibble over trifles or unimportant matters” — which O’Reilly used to describe some of Stewart’s arguments. Stewart, meanwhile, used the term “selective outrage machine” to describe the actions of Fox News. Oh yeah, it was on.
(Jump to the bottom of the post to see the full clip.)
O’Reilly stood firm in his argument that that while Common doesn’t promote cop killing, he celebrates it with his songs about convicted killers Mumia Abu-Jamal and Assata Shakur. Stewart said he couldn’t speak for Common, but did venture to guess what the rapper was thinking: “What I think he’s doing is not celebrating, but honoring someone he thinks was wrongly convicted of cop killing.” O’Reilly was fine with Common’s right to have an opinion, but he still took issue with the White House’s invitation, which in O’Reilly’s mind, elevates and validates Common as a poet.
“It sounds like what you’re saying is — and correct me if I’m wrong. And I don’t want to be wrong when I’m with you because I’ve got mad love for you. That’s a rap phrase,” Stewart said, successfully lightening the mood. “What you’re saying is, if an artist supports someone that’s been convicted of killing a cop they should not be allowed to go to the White House?” No, O’Reilly answered, adding that the president must select guests “who are almost unimpeachable because they’re getting that honor to go to the White House.”
“Are you familiar with Leonard Peltier?” Stewart asked, referring to an American activist convicted of killing two FBI agents. “Guess who wrote a song about him? Bono. And guess where he was? The White House. Boo-yah! That’s a rap word.” Indeed, Bono has visited the White House several times, including in 2005 when he visited President George W. Bush in the Oval Office.
“There is a selective outrage machine here at Fox that pettifogs only when it suits the narrative that suits them,” Stewart said in the most heated part of the interview. He extended this argument to include Bob Dylan and his song “Hurricane,” written about boxer falsely convicted of homicide, and Bruce Springsteen and the song “American Skin (41 Shots),” a song about the police shooting death of a young Guinean immigrant.
Common took his support to the next level, O’Reilly said, by visiting Shakur in Cuba, where she’s lived in political asylum since 1984. What would Stewart do if he was the president, O’Reilly asked. “If I’m president and I’m hosting my own poetry slams, throw me out of office,” Stewart joked. “I would believe, as president, I would have things to do rather than go over the list of poetry slammers. ... It's a poetry slam. Who gives a crap?”
O’Reilly reminded Stewart that it was National Police Week during the poetry event, to which Stewart asked O’Reilly to celebrate by helping reinstate the ban on assault weapons — something O’Reilly supports. “It saddens me to see you wasting your time,” Stewart lamented.
“Songs are not literal, you know that, right?” Stewart added. “When the Weather Girls sing, ‘It’s Raining Men,’ it’s not actually precipitating males.”
“Stop attacking the Weather Girls, they're one of my favorite groups,” O’Reilly quipped.
Tomorrow, the second part of the interview will air, where the two men discuss something current: the presidential race.