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The Jon Stewart-Bill O'Reilly debate: Who lost?
The commentators square off in an overhyped "Rumble in the Air-Conditioned Auditorium" — and in the end, the real losers may have been viewers
 
Bill O'Reilly and Jon Stewart duke it out in "The Rumble in the Air-Conditioned Auditorium" on Oct. 6.
Bill O'Reilly and Jon Stewart duke it out in "The Rumble in the Air-Conditioned Auditorium" on Oct. 6.
Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for The Rumble 2012

As political pundits continue to obsessively parse the impact of last week's presidential debate, a decidedly lower-stakes face-off is also drawing plenty of attention. On Saturday, The Daily Show's Jon Stewart and The O'Reilly Factor's Bill O'Reilly squared off in the "Rumble in the Air-Conditioned Auditorium" — a 90-minute debate in front of a crowd of 1,500 at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. (Watch the video below.) They sparred about PBS, the Iraq War, the national debt, tax cuts, and the welfare state — and though professional wrestling-style championship belts were awarded to both Stewart and O'Reilly at the end of the debate, there are no shortage of opinions on who really lost the night. Here are four:

1. Bill O'Reilly
Stewart began his opening remarks by saying, "My friend Bill O'Reilly is completely full of shit" — a message that seemed to resonate with the debate's audience even after the event had ended. Most everyone there "seemed to think the win went to Stewart," reports Uptin Saiidi at MTV News. Stewart skewered his conservative foe with a string of well-articulated "intellectual arguments" in the face of O'Reilly's more emotional appeals, and the audience ate it up.

2. Jon Stewart
Stewart may have been the audience's favorite, says Katy Steinmetz at TIME, but "from a P.R. perspective, O'Reilly was the real winner." On The Daily Show, Stewart often paints commentators like O'Reilly as "humorless conservative zombies," but O'Reilly proved his charm, wit, and intelligence — and given the crowd's youthful makeup, he "likely reached many more new audience members" than Stewart did with his surprisingly cheeky performance.

3. Bill O'Reilly and Jon Stewart
"These guys are much better in their natural habitats" at Comedy Central and Fox News, says Ken Tucker at Entertainment Weekly. Both Stewart and O'Reilly were clearly out of their elements on Saturday, as each man "frequently strained for seriousness and comedy within the space of any single question." If anything, the debate proved that Stewart and O'Reilly chose the correct professions: "O'Reilly isn't a good stand-up comic, and Stewart isn't a good politician."

4. Viewers
In general, the debate had an "airlessness" that made it a serious bore for fans of Stewart and O'Reilly's fiery performances on The Daily Show  and The O'Reilly Factor, says Brent Lang at The Wrap. Stewart is "at his worst when he tries to be sincere," and his repeated, earnest appeals throughout the night didn't connect or entertain. And O'Reilly lazily resorted to his old favorite topics, including the months-old Sandra Fluke controversy. The debate was "nowhere near as good as either of their shows," and many viewers may be wishing that they had 90 minutes of their lives back.

 

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