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The Bill O'Reilly-Jon Stewart 'rumble': More than a jab-fest?

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Still, the O'Reilly-Stewart tussle is not without redeeming social value. The "info" part of infotainment, some argue, can actually serve to breed interest  in real political and civic issues among those who are politically disengaged.

Entertainment provides a “gateway” to broader political engagement, says Lauren Feldman, an assistant professor at American University in Washington, D.C. She observed this connection in her research on how “Daily Show” viewers are engaged in issues like climate change. “Humor and substance are not dichotomous phenomena,” she says.

The debate will appeal to people who are already fans of their shows and already politically engaged, Dr. Feldman says. But the "substantive discussion" that Stewart and O'Reilly have promised may, in fact, inspire more people to pay attention, especially when debate clips circulate over social media afterward. 

Comedy Central’s other fake news host, Stephen Colbert of “The Colbert Report,” has occasionally inserted his TV persona into the real world of politics, as well – he testified before Congress in 2010 and, this year, created his own "super PAC" (Making A Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow) during the Republican presidential primary.

“[Mr.] Colbert found an entertaining way to inform people: What does it mean to start a super PAC? How is it legal? What is the process?” says Lindsay Hoffman, assistant professor at the University of Delaware. “It’s like hiding broccoli in chocolate cake.” 

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