Look closer. Think harder. Choose the sound argument over the clever one.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Is Jon Stewart Tucker Carlson's Monkey?

The Washington Post's Richard Morin: Jon Stewart, Enemy of Democracy?:

This is not funny: Jon Stewart and his hit Comedy Central cable show may be poisoning democracy.

Two political scientists found that young people who watch Stewart's faux news program, "The Daily Show," develop cynical views about politics and politicians that could lead them to just say no to voting.

That's particularly dismaying news because the show is hugely popular among college students, many of whom already don't bother to cast ballots.

That recalls Jon Stewart's words to Tucker Carlson on Crossfire:

And I wanted to -- I felt that that wasn't fair and I should come here and tell you that I don't -- it's not so much that it's bad, as it's hurting America. But I wanted to come here today and say... Stop, stop, stop, stop hurting America.

I get a kick out of the Daily Show, and I really don't mind Stewart's fans dropping out. (Ok, I don't really want anyone just dropping out, but looking closer and thinking harder.)

But the Daily Show is comedy, entertainment. So this kind of becomes the age-old culture-war thing. What responsibility do performers (like musicians) have for their negative effect on society? After all, it's just entertainment. Lighten up! (Seems that argument is on its way home to roost.)

But with Stewart calling out Carlson like he did, Stewart kind of forfeits this defense anyway. After all, then he seemed to care about the country.

Makes me feel a little vindicated for my Daily Show scrutiny.

HT: Cap'n Ed

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Update, 6/27: Matt Stoler at MyDD says Morin cherry picked the research. But he quotes this from the study:

Stewart's style of humor paints the complexities of politics as a function of the absurdity and incompetence of political elites, thus leading viewers to blame any lack of understanding not on themselves but on those who run the system.

That sure doesn't sound like a compliment to Daily Show fans. It makes them sound lazy, blame-shifting and self-satisfied.

Stoler quotes the study again:

The results indicate that the effect on internal efficacy is positive for The Daily Show and suggests that even though The Daily Show generates cynicism toward the media and the electoral process, it simultaneously makes young viewers more confident about their own ability to understand politics.

He reads that as a compliment, but I think it's just the opposite. Positive internal efficacy sounds like a polite way of saying more smug.

The study's abstract (cited by Stoler) spells out Morin's point pretty explicitly:

Although research indicates that soft news contributes to democratic citizenship in America by reaching out to the inattentive public, our findings indicate that The Daily Show may have more detrimental effects, driving down support for political institutions and leaders among those already inclined toward nonparticipation.

Unless the study's authors themselves cherry-picked for their abstract, I'd say Morin got it right.

Further, Stoler says "I assumed there were some logical problems with his analysis..." Not that he found logical problems: he doesn't cite any. Instead, he assumed there were some. Sounds like his internal efficacy is way positive.


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