Jon Stewart debated Bill O'Reilly about Common: Behold, the trumped-up outrage! VIDEO

Jon Stewart took Bill O’Reilly up on his challenge to debate the invitation of Common to a White House poetry reading last week. If you haven’t heard much about this controversy, don’t worry: The two people in America it seems to most concern, at this point, are Bill O’Reilly and Jon Stewart. Which is part of the problem with this “issue” and the ensuing “debate.”

On Monday night on The O’Reilly Factor, O’Reilly said he thinks the invitation “elevates [Common] as a poet” when in O’Reilly’s view Common is “controversial all day long.” O’Reilly and others have cited Common’s shout-out in song to Joanne Chesimard/Assata Shakur, an ex-Black Panther who was convicted of killing a New Jersey officer in a 1973 shoot-out.

Stewart’s rebuttal was, essentially, that he “imagines” what Common believes is that Shakur was unfairly convicted of the crime. He extended the logic of what Stewart called “the selective outrage machine.” He suggested that if the White House was going to reject people who write in rhyme from entering the White House, then Bono (whose U2 recorded “Native Son” about Leonard Peltier, another activist convicted, amidst great controversy, of murdering two FBI agents) and Bob Dylan (whose “Hurricane,” about Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, also controversially convicted of murder in 1966), both visitors to the White House, should not have been allowed in, either.

The more effective and pertinent argument Stewart could have made — one that might have forestalled O’Reilly swatting away Stewart’s points by lumping Common in with Bill Ayers and other activists with whom the President has had associations, friendships, or meetings, thereby dragging the debate away from the arts and into politics —  is that artists aren’t role models and shouldn’t be expected to be considered as such. Common wasn’t at the White House as a symbol of radical protest; he was there to read poetry. (Kyle Anderson placed Common in his pop-culture context in a blog post here last week. It’s unlikely that anyone reading this who knows Common’s music would rank him as a provocateur as an artist.)

The spectacle of two white guys explaining to each other, and their audiences, the artistic or political significance of a black artist would be fine if there was also any equally prominent place on cable where actual black people also debated these questions. Wouldn’t that add something to the discussion? At the least, black pundits probably wouldn’t have made the mistake Stewart did when he referred more than once to the event at the White House as a “poetry slam” — it wasn’t; it was a poetry reading. Billy Collins, Aimee Mann, and Rita Dove (who were among the other guests) don’t “slam” poetry in the competitive manner; they recite it.

One thing that came across was both men’s supercilious attitude toward the event that provoked this “debate.” “It’s a poetry slam, who gives a damn,” said Stewart, in a dismissive tone you hear all the time from famous people who make a lot of money about an art form for which few people ever become famous or ever make any money. There’s something philistine about that on the part of both Stewart and O’Reilly.

What came across most forcefully this night was the sight of two media grandees, one expressing “mad love” for the other and only half-joking because he knows his “foe” helps his position in the culture. And the other media mogul smiled broadly, beaming out mad love for his opponent, knowing they were both in on the joke, and the joke was trumped-up outrage from opposing political and show-biz poles.

(Note: O’Reilly said he taped an interview with Stewart about “the Presidential race,” not involving Common, that will air on The Factor on Tuesday night.)

Twitter: @kentucker

Comments (147 total) Add your comment
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  • joblo

    > if there was also any equally prominent place on cable where actual black people also debated these questions.

    You do realize that Juan Williams was actually on the show right before the Stewart interview. And O’Reilly has him and other black guests on all the time.

    • kate middleton

      Exactly. But furthermore, what does race have to do with it? Just because Common’s black means that it would be more appropriate for black pundits/journalists to debate this? I don’t get it. Race has nothing to do with this. If it was Eminem instead of Common (and he had expressed support for a cop killer who escaped from jail, etc), O’Reilly would be saying the exact same thing.
      Personally, I think the whole thing’s overblown….but I get tired of everything having to do with race in the eyes of the media.

      • Bwilbank

        I am so sorry, but this has everything t do with race…and i am a white man! If Eminem was invited to the White House (which I don’t know that he hasn’t been) there would probably be no mention of it. At the very least, Common Sense ( yeah that’s what I still call him) is getting alot more publicity for the outspoken music he has been known to make for years now. If George Bush invited Kid Rock, you would never hear a word about it!

      • ron swanson

        Bwilbank, you really think that if Common was white this wouldn’t be an issue? If Obama invited Eminem, and Eminem had rapped in the past about cop killers, do you really think O’Reilly and Hannity would keep their mouths shut?

        Has Kid Rock sung about convicted cop killers? That comparison does not compute.

      • Chris

        Definitely racial, Bob Dylan and Bono aren’t black. Despite the fact Commons music is about overcoming adversity and treating others with respect. A white teacher and coach from my highschool taught his students about Common, He was one of the best!

      • get ODD FUTURE to the whitehouse

        swag that place out

      • Chris is stupid

        How is praising the actual murder of police officers about race? It’s about how many so-called “artists” taking the side of murders over our police

      • @Chris is stupid

        Common’s song isn’t about praising the murder of police officers. Common is saying that he believes she was unfairly convicted.
        Saying you think someone is not guilty is not an approval of the crime. It’s just saying you think they got the wrong person.

      • whowho


        What you’re saying is complete BS

      • whowho

        Sorry Bwilbank
        @kate middleton
        I meant to say what Kate is talking about is straight BS

      • Athena

        Wow, there are a lot of racists apologizing for Bill O’Reilly on EW!

      • @ Athena the idiot

        You are pretty much an idiot. One thing that O’Reilly should have brought up is that Common IS AGAINST INTERRACIAL DATING AND MARRIAGES.

        I guess you forgot that part? And he was not the only poet invited that did not like blacks and whites dating or marrying. Jill Scott, another poet who was invited to the White House wrote an article in Essence that her soul ‘wince’ when a black colleague said he was married to a white woman.

        Which means that both Common and Jill Scott don’t like the inter mixing of races…the same inter mixing that created Barack Obama.

        Being against blacks and whites dating is RACIST.

        So Common and Jill Scott are RACISTS.

    • Elizabeth

      Well, maybe is Juan Williams wasn’t a regular on the OReilly Factor, that might carry a little more weight.

      It would be nice to see Bill show the same respect that he shows to Jon to other guests who don’t drink the same flavor of Kool-Aid. I might be able to take him a bit more seriously then.

    • wakeforce

      These two talking about hip-hop would be like me debating about opera. I don’t know anything about it, so I don’t discuss it.
      Eminem has rapped about killing women, driving them over cliffs, into high-water, f@gs, etc. and gets Grammys, Ice-T plays a cop, for God’s sakes!

    • Clt

      Juan Williams is Latino, he doesn’t represent “the Blacks”. I know Fox wants to one size fit all.

      • kat

        No he isn’t. He is black. His dad is Jamaican and his mother is African American. Get your facts straight.

  • Luke M

    “At the least, black pundits probably wouldn’t have made the mistake Stewart did when he referred more than once to the event at the White House as a “poetry slam” — it wasn’t; it was a poetry reading. Billy Collins, Aimee Mann, and Rita Dove (who were among the other guests) don’t “slam” poetry in the manner of rappers; they recite it.” I think this is more Stewart’s dry, Jewish sense of humor… And trust me Stewart has a much better idea about the value of art in our culture than Billo.

    • Rose

      Yes, it’s just Stewart’s sense of humor. But it also shows that Ken Tucker doesn’t know what an actual poetry slam is.
      A poetry slam isn’t a “rapper” thing. It’s a competition where poets read their work and can be ANY style of poetry.
      From the website
      · What is a poetry slam?
      A poetry slam is a competitive event in which poets perform their work and are judged by members of the audience. Typically, the host or another organizer selects the judges, who are instructed to give numerical scores (on a zero to 10 or one to 10 scale) based on the poets’ content and performance.

    • Luddite

      So glad someone made this correction.

  • Tom

    What a poorly written article. If Stewart were to say that they aren’t role models do you really think that O’Reilly would have accepted that as a credible answer? Don’t you think that inviting someone to the white house signifies a certain aspect of respectability and acceptance of their actions and intentions?

    • K

      I liked Ken’s opinion about artists not being role models, but this is an excellent point.

      • Ken Tucker is an idiot

        “I liked Ken’s opinion about artists not being role models”

        Try telling that to many of today’s teenagers. Many teenagers today see sports athletes and musicians as role models.

      • Ames

        When people say celebrities/athletes are not role models, I think they are more or less saying they SHOULDN’T be role models. True. All kids should have a strong network of friends and family to learn from. Guess what? Doesn’t always work out that way. But I really doubt kids are looking to the White House invitation list for ideas on who is cool.

    • SS

      Thought it was well written, just don’t agree with Tucker’s analysis. Stewart was right and shattered each and every one of O’Reilly’s points.

    • Cat

      Good point!

  • Richard Elma

    What good for the goose is good for the gander…booyah to you Jon Steward!!!

    • Mirian

      This is all so wonderful! I can’t wait to get my hands on the kcihmi recipe and check out the show! It looks like it was a fantastic trip and a good time was had by all.

  • cain

    Stewart let Bill lay out his case/”standard” then he used it against him. O’Reilly had no comeback. He got his clock cleaned by Stewart.

    • LoveBug68

      Why has no one picked up on when Jon called out Fox news as a whole, O’Reilly countered with “what about your network”? Its the comedy network…HELLO!!!

  • jodipo

    The idea that two white men cannot have a valid opinion on a black rapper or black poetry is ridiculous. This whole article is offensive

    • ron swanson

      Exactly. Thank you, jodipo. Silly political correctness.

    • Rose

      You are correct jodipo.

      • Ken

        I think what Ken was trying to say was that the debate would have benefited from having someone within the urban/hip hop community give their perspective. They could have invited Common to participate in the debate, or invited someone like John Legend, L.A. Reid or Russell Simmons. There is something off-putting about two heterosxual white males debating about lyrics neither one of them have experienced, just as it would be if they were debating about abortion-rights or same-sex marriage.

      • kat

        What does O’Reilly and Stewart being heterosexual have to do with anything???

        So Ken, you don’t think anyone other than women can express opinions or debate abortion? Or no one that is straight can debate for or against gay marriage?
        You must really be a quiet person if you never discuss anything that doesn’t directly affect you. And you must not watch much news or television if you only think people should be debating issues related to their position in life.

      • Matt

        On a broader level, yes, there should be some more black pundits/intellectual figures in the media. But that doesn’t mean there is an element that is heinous, malicious or even lacking in this specific interview/debate. We should constantly employ introspection and critical thought to the media we consume, yes, but I think there is really something wrong here, with the way that Ken deconstructs television shows, and the conclusions he draws from them. He’s a little too schooled in critical theory. Trying to criticize the two debaters for still caring about the issue is a questionable move, too, given that he went on to analyze it to the max!

  • erick

    WOW – You really missed the story here Ken. – Erick

    • J J

      Yes, our little Kenny is not nearly as smart as he thinks he is.

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  • Skip182

    I don’t want to seem mean, but I don’t think Ken seems to understand that the “debate” isn’t so much about the Common invite as much as it is about impartiality and consistency of outrage. Swing and a miss Ken…

    • Lois

      You’re right, the debate is about more than Common. It’s about the fake outrage that Fox News keeps building up around the President, and Democrats in general.

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    • Matt

      Here here!

    • psyche

      Thirded. Its not about Common, its about Fox’s talking point/faux outrage hypocrisy.

  • econruth

    At least Jon Stewart has the balls to call out hypocrisy when he sees it. Ken, you are late to this dance, and doing the electric slide when you should be waltzing.

  • gigity

    Wow, super old Ken Tucker, the one idiot that hates The Voice missed the point completely here yet again. Surprising.

  • lvh

    Slam Poetry and rappers are two different animals – occasionally they intersect – so Mr. Writer, perhaps some artist of color, or of poetry awareness should have written your column.

  • Eric J

    I can’t believe I wasted my time reading this tripe. As others have pointed out, you’ve completely missed the point. Just as you have (absurdly) suggested that having two black men debate this issue would have held more weight, perhaps your article would have been better received if a black man had been writing about the two white men arguing over a black man’s invite to a poetry reading at the White House.

    Do you get paid for this stuff?

  • Susan

    I’m with Stewart although Tucker does have a point that, amazingly, most of the media has not cared a lick about this story. Duh FOX took offense, duh they’re hypocrites.

  • Chris

    Stewart made perfect comparisons, Bill just kept making silly excuses trying to hold on to a connection. Find facts instead of wasting time digging dirt.

  • Hannah

    So according to Bill O’Reilly, someone has to be good enough to go to the white house. Can’t the everyday person be invited without worrying about every little thing in they have every done being scrutinized. This is ridiculous.

    • Rob

      They weren’t talking about GOING to the WH, but rather, being invited as a performing guest. And yes, for that, a person should be “good enough.”

      • ron swanson

        Yeah, kind of a different thing, Hannah. He was invited to a poetry event by the Obamas/WH. Not like he just showed up there.

      • And

        He was also INVITED to a White House tree lighting ceremony. Where you character police then?

      • Rose

        Eazy-E, founder of the rap group N.W.A., was invited to a Republican White House luncheon with President George H. W. Bush on March 18, 1991. Bob Dole was the person who got Easy-E invited to the luncheon, because Easy-E was a big Republican donor. The late Easy-E made Common look like Justin Bieber

        Try looking up some N.W.A. lyrics for songs like “F*** Tha Police”, “To K!ll A Hooker”, or “One Less B!tch.” And if anyone doesn’t know what N.W.A. stands for, google that as well.

      • gigity

        Wrong. Athletes are constantly invited there. Heads of state that have killed their own people are invited there. You and Bill O’liely need to think before you open your idiotic conservative mouths.

      • Channing Taintum

        Rose, you are so wrong. The invitation was for a different Eric Wright, and ended up in Eazy’s hands.

      • Maggie D

        @Channing Taintum,
        You are the one who is “so wrong.” Easy-E was invited because he was a supporter of President Bush in the Gulf War, and because he donated money to Republican politians. Easy-E said that he donated money to Republicans in order to get them to stop trying to censor music
        LATimes, May 18, 1991:

        “Guess who’s scheduled to lunch with the President of the United States today?

        Compton’s most notorious rap entrepreneur, Eric Wright–better known as Eazy-E, founder of the controversial rap group N.W.A.”
        “Wright, 23, a self-professed ex-gangster and former drug dealer, received his invitation to the closed-door fund-raiser after he contributed $2,490 to the Republican Party at the urging of Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Texas), said Wright’s spokesman, Norman Winter.

        Sources suggested that Wright’s name may have been taken from fund-raising lists, pointing out the rapper donated $10,000 last year to a City of Hope charity banquet in Los Angeles. Winter said that Wright is a big “Bush fan” and departed on a flight Sunday to attend the luncheon.”

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