Young People Should Respect their Elder Liars
by Matt Stoller, Fri Jun 23, 2006 at 07:02:51 PM EDT
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.
Jody Baumgartner and Jonathan S. Morris of East Carolina University said previous research found that nearly half -- 48 percent -- of this age group watched "The Daily Show" and only 23 percent of show viewers followed "hard news" programs closely.
To test for a "Daily Effect," Baumgartner and Morris showed video clips of coverage of the 2004 presidential candidates to one group of college students and campaign coverage from "The CBS Evening News" to another group. Then they measured the students' attitudes toward politics, President Bush and the Democratic presidential nominee, Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.).
The results showed that the participants rated both candidates more negatively after watching Stewart's program. Participants also expressed less trust in the electoral system and more cynical views of the news media, according to the researchers' article, in the latest issue of American Politics Research.
"Ultimately, negative perceptions of candidates could have participation implications by keeping more youth from the polls," they wrote.
Ugh, there are so many bad leaps of logic here.
First of all, the problem with the testing Morin cites is that it assumes that 'hard news' programs are truthful, that politicians are honorable, and that journalists are honest and helpful to public discourse. If none of those conditions are accurate, then what the 'Daily effect' really shows is that Jon Stewart is able to accurately describe our political world to young people. And in fact, Daily Show viewers not only have more negative feelings about the political system, but they are better informed than 'hard news' viewers. And that sounds about right; things aren't great, the political system took the country to war that is nearly universally acknowledged as a horrific mistake, and 2004 presented us with two wildly unappealing old white men as candidates, so why is it good for citizens to 'feel' good about the political system? How is that a test of civic virtue instead of simple delusion?
Morin and the researchers go on to bite their nails about what this negative attitude might mean for voting. Only, young people voted in record numbers in 2004 (and I believe 2005 in NJ and VA as well, though I don't have those numbers handy), when many of them were getting their news from the Daily Show. Some Daily effect.
Ok, so let's be clear with what Morin is fretting about. He thinks that the Daily Show doesn't make younger viewers feel good enough about politicians and media figures. It's not enough that Daily Show viewers are better informed than any other media consumer, that young people voted in record numbers, that, and that the choice in 2004 for President presented young people with two wildly unappealing old white men. No, it's all about young people not feeling good enough about the people who routinely lie to them.
Young people have very negative feelings about politics, and rightfully so. And they're voting anyway. That's amazing. I suppose what Morin doesn't like is that the Daily Show punctures the media's sense of self-importance (of which Morin displays an amply large amount), and that young people are watching Stewart instead of reading Morin.
Big surprise there.