Richard Morin Cherry Picks Research on the Daily Show

I keep finding more problems with what Richard Morin wrote on Friday about youth and voting.  I assumed there were some logical problems with his analysis, but now it looks like Morin actually misrepresented the study he cited.  Newscorpse has a great post to that effect.  To flesh this out a bit more, here's what Morin highlighted about the study:

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.

This is a woefully misleading representation of the study (located here).  First of all, the authors of the study concluded that we don't know what the effect of the Daily Show is on voting patterns.  They mused that it could be positive, or it could be negative.  And indeed, turnout among youth actually went way up in 2004, increasing more than among any other age group.  But here's something else the authors of the study wrote that Morin does not mention in his column.

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.

According to the study, the Daily Show was the only show that increased skepticism about the media.  Morin also didn't mention this.

Relatedly, we found that exposure to The Daily Show increased internal efficacy by raising viewers' perception that the complex world of politics was understandable. 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.

I wonder why Morin doesn't give readers an accurate reading of the study, citing only the parts that confirm his bias against those who puncture the prestige of political coverage.  I suppose it's because the media and political elites are used to cherry picking evidence.

The Washington Post's public ombudsman can be reached at 202-334-7582 or at ombudsman@washpost.com.

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Young People Should Respect their Elder Liars

I didn't want to just let this article from Richard Morin titled 'Jon Stewart, Enemy of Democracy' (or 'Comedy Poisoning Democracy') go unanswered (via Alternet).  Here's Morin's argument.

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.

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