Is Jon Stewart actually defending Bill O'Reilly?

Conservative pundit Bill O'Reilly may have found an unlikely ally in left-leaning satirical news host Jon Stewart – well, sort of.

Chris Kleponis/Lucas Jackson/Reuters/File
File photographs show Jon Stewart speaking at George Washington University in Washington March 31, 2012 and Bill O'Reilly attending Time magazine's 100 most influential people gala in New York May 8, 2008.

Jon Stewart is not furious about Bill O’Reilly’s possible embellishment of his reporting exploits. The soon-to-be-ex host of “The Daily Show” made that clear on Tuesday night’s show.

This does not mean Mr. Stewart believes Mr. O’Reilly’s gripping stories – facing grave danger in Argentina after the Falklands War, dragging a bleeding cameraman away from a policeman’s rifle, reporting from a “war zone,” and so on. Au contraire.

Instead Stewart basically said that anyone who’s watched O’Reilly over the years should not be surprised that a dash of exaggeration might find its way into his on-camera appearances. After all, O’Reilly is the sort of person who labels his show the “No-Spin Zone” and then sometimes engages in partisan twirling.

That’s Stewart’s view, anyway.

“Misrepresenting the zone he is in is kind of his hook,” said Stewart in a segment titled “Raging Bill.

So the O’Reilly uproar is much ado about nothing much, an outrage generator that might best be ignored, said Stewart. Too much excitement over O’Reilly, Brian Williams, and Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert McDonald and their puffery and misstatements might be counterproductive. We’ll be emotionally exhausted when something really outrageous comes along – like allegations that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has exaggerated the Iranian nuclear threat.

“World outrage supplies are finite and if we spend so much of it on fairly inconsequential status embellishments, our anger tanks could be empty when we need them most,” Stewart concluded.

What Stewart didn’t say, but might have, is that it’s also counterproductive to get upset about a situation that isn’t going to change.

O’Reilly is not going anywhere. In that sense his situation is fundamentally different than that of NBC News anchor Brian Williams, who is on a potentially career-killing six month leave.

O’Reilly is a pundit, not a straight news reporter. Fox News seems to be standing behind him. Perhaps they’re just happy about the ratings – the war zone controversy has generated “huge numbers” for "The O’Reilly Factor" in recent days, points out Mediaite.

Maybe he did exaggerate the nature of the Argentine riot in which he was caught, his defenders might say. It was indeed dangerous, but so far there’s no evidence that a number of participants were shot dead by police, as O’Reilly has claimed.

But O’Reilly has successfully politicized the debate over his actions, pointing out that his primary attacker, the magazine Mother Jones, leans left.

“The truth is, it’s a good bet that few of O’Reilly’s fans care what he did or didn’t do in Argentina in the early 1980s. His credibility with the audience is based not on his war reporting, but on his willingness to go to war against the enemy: liberals. This week, Mother Jones has made O’Reilly’s job easy,” writes Gabriel Sherman, author of a biography of Fox News chairman Roger Ailes, in New York Magazine.

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