Hands up if you’re still never going to get used to the idea of Common as a “controversial” rapper. As the logical conclusion of the back-and-forth between Fox News and The Daily Show since it was announced that Common would be appearing at a White House poetry slam, hosts Bill O’Reilly and Jon Stewart met up on The O’Reilly Factor to debate the rapper’s appearance, with O’Reilly positing that Common’s previous lyrics expressing sympathy for convicted cop killers Mumia Abu-Jamal and Assata Shakur should have disqualified his invitation, and Stewart positing that O’Reilly was nutso for thinking the lyrics either excused their crimes or mattered that much in the first place. Their debate was generally respectful and mild-mannered, with the two even trading off jokes on a couple occasions.
“What I think he’s doing is not celebrating, but honoring someone who he thinks was wrongly convicted of cop killing,” asserted Stewart of Common’s intentions. “I think he believes that she was convicted unjustly.” (O’Reilly was unmoved by this, sarcastically asking “Is this Perry Mason we’re talking about now? Is this the most brilliant lawyer of all time?”) Insisted O’Reilly in return, “When…the first lady invites someone [to the White House], the resume has to be put in front of them. And they have to select somebody who is almost unimpeachable.”
Stewart’s counter to this was perhaps the strongest point of the debate, as he pointed out the number of respected rock stars who had sung about cop killers. “There is a selective outrage machine here at FOX that pettifogs only when it suits the narrative that suits them,” testified Stewart. “This guy is in the crosshairs in a way that he shouldn’t be…You might think he’s ignorant, but then guess what…Bono can’t go to the White House. Springsteen can’t go to the White House. Bob Dylan can’t go to the White House. You’ve got a lot of people who aren’t allowed to sit in the White House because they’ve written songs about people convicted of murder.” O’Reilly explained that he thought the difference with Common was that he had actually gone to visit Assata Shakur in Cuba, which put him beyond the pale, a point Stewart obviously disagreed with.
Eventually, Stewart summarized his frustrations with the entire controversy by making the worthwhile point that “it’s a poetry slam—who gives a crap?” His final point was to explain to O’Reilly that “songs are not literal—you know that, right? When the Weather Girls sing ‘It’s Raining Men,’ it’s not really precipitation of males. It’s a metaphor.” To his credit, O’Reilly opted not to rise to the bait of Stewart’s patronizing final point, instead deadpanning in return, “Stop attacking the Weather Girls, who are one of my favorite groups…I love ‘em.” By this point, both were laughing, and indeed, despite a handful of contentious moments, the debate was by in large a thoughtful conversation between two guys with a clear amount of respect for one another. “He is smarter than most liberals,” post-game analyst Bernie Goldberg raved to O’Reilly of Stewart after the debate. “Most liberals feel certain things. He doesn’t only feel, he thinks them.” Awwww!
Anyway, with Stewart accepting O’Reilly’s challenge and the two hashing it out like some grown-ass men, let’s hope that this is the last we’ll be hearing of this presumed “controversy,” and that we can all go back to fixating on pointless Twitter feuds and thinly veiled dis records and such, all of which are a lot more fun than this anyway.