'The Daily Show': Does it attract cynics... or make them?

10168__jon_lRemember that study about how the Daily Show kills civic pride? Well, it’s getting more pickup. Which means it’s time for a pick-apart.

First, methodology: They compared the responses of young people watching The Daily Show to those of young people watching comparable clips from the CBS Evening News. Surprise! The Daily Show viewers came away with a more sardonic slant on what they’d seen. Um, perhaps because they were watching a comedy program, not a news broadcast? Ah, but the study has an answer for that: They also compared responses to people who watched late-night comedians like Leno and Letterman, and Daily Show viewers still came away with a comparatively negative perspective on politicians, politics, and government in general. Well, I’m sure they did. Stewart (pictured) makes politics its sole target, and does not shy away from a point-of-view, unlike the softer and more desultory jabs of late-night comedians aiming for mass audiences. 

But let’s move on to the findings, namely that Jon Stewart’s oversimplified, set-‘em-up-and-knock-‘em-down approach to Washington foibles has created a certain dismissiveness in his fan base. The most interesting observation: Fans of TDS aren’t particularly well-informed, yet believe they are. This last one I believe. And I believe the same of those who depend on Fox News, CNN, CBS, NBC, ABC, and friggin’ EW.com for that matter. Expand that study beyond Daily Show viewers (a minuscule fraction of news viewership) and I suspect you’ll find legions of poorly informed Americans with strong opinions (our most important currency nowadays) and not enough time on their hands to average 17 different competing sources and suss out "the real story."

So is Jon Stewart creating civic apathy among the young… by exposing them to civics? I seem to recall gripes about the decline of citizenship among the young long before Stewart came on the scene. What’s more, Stewart didn’t create the sort of person, young or old, who takes one comic/pundit/politician’s word as gospel. They’ve always been with us, they’ve always been susceptible to demagoguery. Now at least it’s cool to think you know something about government — even if you don’t. That in itself, I suppose, is an improvement.

What say, citizens? Did Jon Stewart erode your democratic instincts? Are you now or have you ever been a pot-smoking couch Commie in dire need of an O’Reilly beatdown? Or, at the very least, a gentle loofah-ing?

addCredit(“The Daily Show: Norman Jean Roy”)


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  • Christopher

    I can speak for most fans, but when I hear a “Daily Show” take on a news item, it’s already old news. I’m usually laughing because they’re pointing out things that are very, very wrong.
    Blame cynicism on the corrupt, selfish, spend-happy and torture-liberally, Brownie-backpatting, Delay-backing, Katrina-ignoring, Plame-outing, Fox-alliancing administration currently holding office.
    THAT’S where cynicism comes from– there isn’t much good to say about politics these days.

  • The Other Kyle

    The problem is the Daily Show is negative about everything. Nothing our government does is good.
    The government could cure cancer, and the Daily Show would do a bit on how it took too long.
    Sure it’s a comedy show. But comedy shows don’t have to always be negative/vicious about every single topic covered.

  • The Other Kyle

    The sad thing is many people truly watch the Daily Show for their news. And many of those people don’t have strong civic views to start with.
    When you are constantly bombarded with ruthlessly scathing takes on civic issues when you lull yourself into thinking you’re watching the news, you’re going to lose your civic pride.
    Many people aren’t intelligent enough to make the distinction.

  • Sean

    Talk about shooting the messenger.

  • Amy

    TDS is a comedy show, but more specifically, it’s satirical. The point of satire is to mock, to make jokes that highlight the absurdity of our world. It’s funny only if you have some knowledge of what is being mocked.

  • Maya

    To those who think the Daily Show dilutes “civic pride”: are you the people who think Colbert’s Press Corps dinner routine “wasn’t funny”?

  • CBB

    I beleive that for many people TDS is a way to escape daily feelings of futility and frustration about this administration. TDS helps you laugh – even if you were steaming from the story hours earlier. For me its like a Members Only Club – hypocritical, self-important, delusional Bushies need not apply.

  • Maria

    I’m a big fan of TDS. However, I do not watch it to gain any insight into the political process. I watch it for its humorous perpective on politics. I have a degree in Political Science and if I actually want to learn something about a political issue I read a scholarly journal, or at the very least, the New York Times.

  • mike

    I get the big stories of the internet during the day. The show is funnier if you know what they are talking about. But, the greatest thing about TDS is that they were one of the only places three or four years ago to show the hypocrasy, incompatence, and total lack of caring of this adminastration.
    The real news just wrote down everything the Bushies said. The fake news lifted the curtain and that’s all it took for Bush’s 30% approval rating.

  • CEEJ

    I guess I’m one of “those people” TheOtherKyle, because I DON’T watch the American news, but I do watch the Daily Show. I’m educated (got 2 Masters), make a good living (own my business), and I have very strong opinions on civic matters. I don’t watch the news because, having studied journalism in college, I know how skewed and misinformed our ‘news’ is. TV reporters today have stopped looking for the real story, stopped questioning the questionable, and just plain stopped thinking! They get a bead on a story fron the AP or Reuters and reprint/rebroadcast it, without investigation or thought. I get most of my news from the BBC, mainly because they at least do son fact-finding first. So I watch TDS to hear another take on the story. Yes, it’s more cynical, but where the ‘real news’ is dropping the journalistic ball, TDS is picking up the slack.

  • Zaid

    “Now at least it’s cool to think you know something about government — even if you don’t.”
    Uh oh – so what qualifies as “knowing” something about the government?
    “The most interesting observation: Fans of TDS aren’t particularly well-informed, yet believe they are.”
    You don’t need to be “well-informed” to see clips of & form judgements about our great American politics. Most political pundits would tell you that.
    This so-called survey just sounds like a buncha fun hogpotch comedy. I won’t be surprised if it’s backed by Jon:)

  • Todd

    I think we should wait to see what a shift in power in Washington does to the success of TDS before we make any decisions about its impact on our nation as a whole.

  • cj

    why is it hard for people to believe we can think for ourselves.this is the same reason celebs think we belive every excuse given for their conduct.

  • Ep Sato

    Great article!
    I watch the Daily show, and can actually pinpoint America on A World Map, have worked for two Senators and three Congressmen. If we make assumptions based on small sample sizes, then what does this say about people who DON’T watch the Daily Show?
    Also, the Jon Stewart’s comments on CNN’s crossfire to Jagoff Tucker Carlson and idiot Bob Novack were so on point that he was able to get the show CANCELLED less than a week after his appearance. So if the host of the Daily Show kicked the azzes of TWO respected CNN journalists in their home court, what does that say about people who watch CNN?

  • Jess

    First off, let me just say, I’m a huge fan of the show. I watch it most every night, but I understand that it isn’t the same as watching the news. Really, they don’t intend for it to be a substitute for the news. As it has been pointed out, it’s just satire. In fact, I don’t know how you could be clueless about the real news and still find the Daily Show funny at all!
    The problem is that too many people take the show much too seriously. Jon Stewart is a smart man, no doubt, and he often makes a lot of sense, but he’s not always right. Much of what he says is OPINION. And beyond that, the show only have about ten minutes of “fake news” once you subtract commercials, interviews, etc. You need much more than that to be informed.
    I watch at least an hour of CNN each day, and I read the paper. The Daily Show is a sort of “after dinner mint” to it all, if you will. The show doesn’t change my opinion much at all. In fact, I’m (gasp!) a moderate. And an optimist. The news is depressing, but the Daily Show makes me feel better, because it reminds me that, no matter how bad things get, we can still have a sense of humor and free speech.

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