By JAKE COYLE
NEW YORK — One is from Fox News, the other Comedy Central. They might as well be the Capulets and the Montagues.
But despite their opposing sides on the political spectrum, something almost like — gasp! — friendship has evolved between Bill O’Reilly and Jon Stewart. The two have frequently appeared on each other’s shows, exhibiting actual respect for the other’s views.
On Saturday, Stewart and O’Reilly will square off in a mock debate in Washington, D.C., to be streamed online for $4.95, with half the proceeds going to charity. As the two prepare for the clash in their respective corners — the event has been dubbed “The Rumble in the Air-Conditioned Auditorium” — Stewart and O’Reilly took a moment to reflect on their unique relationship.
“I think he idolizes me secretly and that’s what it’s all about,” says O’Reilly.
Stewart, in turn, compares them to “The Princess and the Pea.”
“And I’m going to go with me as the pea,” he says.
But both, in separate phone interviews, also quickly follow those descriptions with praise. O’Reilly calls the “Daily Show” host “a good guy” and “very talented.”
When it was suggested that their relationship is one based on both mutual respect and mutual disgust, Stewart laughs but says: “I enjoy talking to the guy. I find him very entertaining. He’s got a good sense of humor. He’s smart. I think he comes by his views honestly. I can’t say I agree with him.
“He’s like comfort food for me,” added Stewart. “I feel like I grew up around these guys. He’s my shepherd’s pie.”
Their 90-minute debate, which will follow Wednesday’s showdown between President Barack Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney, will be conducted like a presidential debate (albeit with less strict time restraints) and moderated by CNN’s E.D. Hill. The sold-out event at George Washington University’s Lisner Auditorium will be live-streamed at TheRumble2012.com.
The “O’Reilly Factor” host says their tete-a-tete might actually be more substantial than the “over-rehearsed” presidential debates. Their event, says O’Reilly, will cover about five issues, like the economy, terrorism and “why Stewart’s a communist.”
“We’re actually going to talk honestly here,” he says. “With us, we’ll just let it fly: This is the way I feel, this is how I see it. There’s none of that censoring or calculating. That’s one of the reasons I wanted to do it.”
It was O’Reilly who approached Stewart with the idea.
“I didn’t have much of a choice,” says Stewart. “First of all, how’d the guy get my number? Second of all, he just calls up and says: `Stewart. O’Reilly. Debate.’”
The two have occasionally appeared on each other’s programs since 2001. O’Reilly has called the “Daily Show” audience “stoned slackers” and “dopey kids.” Stewart, a famous critic of Fox News, in 2008 created “a safe zone” on “The Daily Show” for O’Reilly to confess what scares him about Obama.
“The thing that always strikes me as surprising is when people say, `How can you talk to that guy?’” said Stewart. “I have people in my family that make that guy look like Ralph Nader. This idea that somehow people whose viewpoints you can’t quite wrap your head around are not worthy of engagement strikes me as bizarre.”
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