Jon Stewart, Enemy of Democracy?

Comedian and fake-news anchorman Jon Stewart makes the already cynical viewers of Comedy Central's
Comedian and fake-news anchorman Jon Stewart makes the already cynical viewers of Comedy Central's "The Daily Show" even more cynical -- and possibly less likely to vote, two political scientists at East Carolina University say. (Comedy Central)

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By Richard Morin
Friday, June 23, 2006

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.

Miserly Republicans, Unprincipled Democrats

Are Republicans stingy but principled while Democrats are generous but racist?

"I wouldn't put it quite so starkly," said Stanford University professor Shanto Iyengar. He would prefer to call Democrats "less principled" rather than bigoted, based on his analysis of data collected in a recent online experiment that he conducted with The Washington Post and washingtonpost.com.

As reported in this column a few weeks ago, the study found that people were less likely to give extended aid to black Hurricane Katrina victims than to white ones. The race penalty, on average, totaled about $1,000 per black victim.

As Iyengar and his colleagues subsequently dug deeper into these data, another finding emerged: Republicans consistently gave less aid, and gave over a shorter period of time, to victims regardless of race.


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© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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