O’Reilly, Stewart trade jabs over Social Security, Big Bird in prime time debate

Gregg Re | Editor

In a heated, wide-ranging prime time debate that touched on topics from food stamps to Social Security but often resembled a playground shouting match, comedian Jon Stewart and Fox News host Bill O’Reilly found little room for agreement but plenty of time for personal jabs and hammy theatrics.

The 90-minute debate, moderated by former Fox host E.D. Hill and billed as “The Rumble in the Air-Conditioned Auditorium,” was held Saturday night at George Washington University. Each television personality stood behind a lectern, as presidential candidates Barack Obama and Mitt Romney did Wednesday night.

“My friend Bill O’Reilly is completely full of shit,” Stewart said to lead off the debate in his introductory remarks, adding that O’Reilly is in fact the mayor of “Bullshit Mountain.”

At one point, O’Reilly held up a prop flashcard with pictures of Cuba, Robin Hood’s Sherwood Forrest and Chinese communist revolutionary Mao Zedong, and asked Stewart, “Income redistribution: Do you believe in it?”

Stewart quickly replied, “Do you?”

“I asked first,” O’Reilly shot back.

“I believe in Social Security, do you believe in Social Security?” Stewart retorted, before the two men engaged in a verbal scuffle over how much adults pay into the program.

“This is not how the Founding Fathers envisioned us,” O’Reilly told the audience, when asked about federal funding for certain broadcast networks. “We have a president here who believe in social justice, he wants to take your money, my money, the money of the 1 percent, and he wants to give it to Bill Moyers.”

Stewart, however, said that eliminating spending on networks like PBS would barely put a dent in out-of-control federal spending.

“We face a debt crisis that we’ve never faced before,” Stewart said. “We are merely weeks from being a failed state or even worse, Greece. And the way to solve it is to kill Big Bird?”

Romney had mentioned slashing funding for PBS, which produces the television show “Sesame Street” and characters like Big Bird, during the Wednesday debate.

Later, Stewart scored one of the evening’s biggest applause lines during a discussion about entitlements and food stamps.

“Why is it that if you tage of a tax break, you’re a smart businessman, but if you take advantage of something you need to not be hungry, you’re a moocher?” Stewart asked.

Foreign policy was also a heated point of discussion. News came earlier in the day that Israel had shot down an unmanned drone deep in its airspace, raising tensions with Iran.

“All Barack Obama has to do is go on a double date with Bibi, with Netanyahu,” O’Reilly said. “Just double date with him, go anywhere with him, that sends a little message to Tehran, [that] they might be making up some stuff.”

The debate occasionally took on a more humorous, if not homoerotic tone, particularly when Stewart sat on O’Reilly’s lap, called him a “little boy” and asked what he would like for Christmas.

“The display that you saw tonight is why America is America. Robust, creative, no holds barred,” O’Reilly told reporters at the end of the debate.

Viewers can watch the debate by navigating to its official website, but the video — unusual in the age of YouTube and free streaming — costs $4.95. Half of the profits are directed to charity, according to the event website.

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