Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The Daily Subversion with Jon Stewart?

Given the explosive popularity of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and the rise of its eponymous host as a preeminent social commentator, it was inevitable that some people would take exception with the show and its methods. Last month, two researchers published a study claiming that The Daily Show has "detrimental effects" on its (apparently impressionable) viewers, "driving down support for political institutions and leaders" among a demographic that is already often indifferent.

I disagree with their conclusions, and not just because I take offense with the notion of stuffy doctorates thinking that college students are all idiots. The study compared the reactions of two groups of students; one who watched 2004 election coverage from The Daily Show, the other from the CBS Evening News. Based on their attitudes afterward, it was determined that The Daily Show engendered "cynicism". Without even taking the researchers' dubious methodology into consideration, I find fault with their analysis.

Unlike these researchers (and Tucker Carlson from his Crossfire days), the viewers of The Daily Show don't take it too seriously. The 48% of college students who watch the show know that this is a program on Comedy Central, and they turn it on primarily to hear jokes, not get the news. Most people my age I know, while not hard-core followers of the news, at least get the headlines from online news sites. To those of us who are fans of the show, Stewart and his crew are still comedians, not televangelists.

As to a drop in voter participation rates, I think it's interesting that despite the supposedly corrosive effect of the ever-popular Daily Show among youth, the 18-24 demographic had its highest turnout (47%) in 2004. This was an 11% increase over the 2000 election, proving that when it's important, young people do come out.

More to the point, I think that The Daily Show's irreverence plays a valuable service that distinguishes it from "real news" programs. At a time when "spin" is a rule for politicians and the news media only infrequently provides hard-hitting journalism, Daily Show viewers are continually reminded to be skeptical of B.S. They become critical of poor performance by their public servants, and they expect more of their government and public institutions.

What's wrong with that?

3 comments:

Phil said...

I heard some folks talking about this on a conservative talk show... they really just don't understand, for the most part. Props to Stewart for making news interesting (aka fake?)

ABT said...

And what's wrong with a healthy dose of cynicism anyway?

jessica said...

Yeah, I read some guy's opinion article on WashPost titled something like "Is Jon Stewart Poisoning Democracy?" about this so-called study, and it made me laugh. I love how they think college students are stupid.