Jon Stewart vs. Bill O'Reilly on Common's White House Invitation

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Proof that the Fox News Channel is capable of hosting a passable argument that also makes for good TV

Above is part one of the Fox News Channel debate between Bill O'Reilly, who expresses his outrage at rapper Common's White House invite, and Jon Stewart, who defends the entertainer. The substance of the disagreement: O'Reilly says that Common celebrates cop killers, while Stewart insists on the distinction that he celebrates people he believes were wrongly convicted of killing cops. The Daily Show host also says that attacks on Common are part of the cable news "selective outrage machine," an argument similar to what I offered here.

This bygone story is noteworthy only because the quality of the debate between the two men proves what cable news is capable of producing. O'Reilly is his irascible self, bullying his interlocutor and making arguments that don't at all work. Examined closely, the conversation is flawed in all sorts of ways. It is nevertheless good enough! Especially compared to what frequently appears on the network, the viewer is given a compelling second perspective with which to wrestle, as opposed to the Team Red perspective and a Washington-Generals-style defense.

Of course, Stewart is perhaps the most effective sparring partner imaginable in this role: intelligent, quick witted, disarmingly funny, and familiar with O'Reilly from countless hours deconstructing tapes of his show. Guests of such quality cannot be summoned at will to the Fox News studios. This is nevertheless proof that, however flawed the format of these shows, they're capable of delivering better debate than what we're generally given. So up the quality, Bill O'Reilly!

Now we know you're capable of it.

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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