By Ken Tucker
Updated April 01, 2009 at 05:07 PM EDT

Bill O’Reilly had barely lowered himself into the Late Show chair before David Letterman said, “I think of you as a goon,” and it just got more prickly from there. Asking The O’Reilly Factor host to run down his resume, which ended with his ascension to the Fox News Channel, Letterman said, “When you say ‘working your way up,’ does that really apply to Fox?”

Letterman’s been dropping the usual I’m-just-a-goofball-host charade and engaging in more contentious exchanges with political-minded guests of late. Last night, the host persued a line of questioning that boiled down to, “You’re too smart to believe what you say.” O’Reilly, of course, did not agree. He didn’t defend former President Bush when Letterman said, “To me, the United States government was essentially closed for eight years,” or former Vice President Cheney when Letterman referred to the latter as “the venal one.” O’Reilly said he was a bit put out that Cheney had never come on The Factor for an interview; beyond that, he refused, as he does on his own show, to be a defender of the Republican party, portraying himself as being above the partisan fray.

Kidding O’Reilly about his announced boycott of Sean Penn movies because of the actor’s leftist political beliefs, Letterman said impishly, “It’s gonna be on your conscience when you put him out of work.”

Having drilled away at O’Reilly for three segments, Dave said genially, “Okay, I think we’re done here. I’d like to see you back here in six months for a cleaning.” Both men seemed happy with the services they’d rendered.

Did you watch? Who do you think came off better, or was it a tussle ending in a draw?