The appearance of Jon Stewart on Bill O’Reilly’s show, which began last night and will continue tonight (then the unedited interview will be posted) is making for pretty interesting TV, as James Poniewozik explains. There are no real fireworks, because O’Reilly and Stewart genuinely like and respect each other and also because, weirdly, O’Reilly has become kind of the mellow guy at his network. I don’t know if this is because he just looks more mellow compared with Beck and especially the Colmes-free Hannity, or because he really doesn’t hate Obama all that much. (Ever since 2008 it’s seemed like his view of Obama is closer to his boss Rupert Murdoch’s than that of his other boss, Roger Ailes.) But as Stewart said, O’Reilly is now “the voice of sanity at Fox News, which is like being the thinnest kid at fat camp.”
This means that their discussion was quite substantive, with Stewart playing the role of the guy who wants to be a cenrist but can’t find where the center is in a world gone mad, and O’Reilly mostly concerned with defending the honour of his network as a news organization, and trying to argue that Stewart’s “cyclonic perpetual emotional machine” is only driven by a couple of guys on the network. It really does seem that this is the only criticism that stings at Fox News, which has gone out of its way to argue that its news shows are separate from its opinion shows. (I think this doesn’t really wash if you’ve watched most of their news anchors, apart from Shepard Smith. The m.o. of many Fox News anchors is to report the news in such a way as to provide talking points for the “opinion” shows. And in any case, opinion shows on cable news tend to present themselves as news sources.) The fact that Stewart is more respectful of O’Reilly than he was of Crossfire is interesting, though not surprising. He really does seem to like O’Reilly, whereas nobody likes Tucker Carlson.
Speaking of Fox, the recent emergence of Roger Ailes from his cocoon is a puzzling thing to me. Ailes has always been a behind-the-scenes kind of guy, yet recently he’s been going out for publicity; first he gave that interview to the New York Times he and his viewers loathe, and then he was part of the panel on ABC’s This Week, arguing with Paul Krugman and Arianna Huffington. (The fact that a panel would include Ailes, Huffington, George Will and
George Stephanopolous Barbara Walters at one time is as good an explanation of why I can’t bear to watch Sunday morning news shows. That’s one horrifying group of people.) Why he suddenly wants to be a public figure, I’m not sure; either he wants to be taken seriously by the evil mainstream media, or he’s trying to shore up his position at Murdoch’s company in case of shake-ups.