Friday, June 23, 2006

Blaming the messenger

The Washington Post's Richard Morin penned a column today entitled 'Jon Stewart, Enemy of Democracy?' The headline refers to a report published by two political scientists who 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."

'Could lead.' It's amazing to me how many people who report on statistics don't know that correlation doesn't equal causality. In fact, the study didn't even say that Daily Show watchers vote less, just that they "expressed less trust in the electoral system and more cynical views of the news media." Well, I don't particularly trust the electoral system, I am cynical about the news media, AND I vote (I wish that would fit on a bumper sticker.)

I am also a devoted fan of The Daily Show. Besides making me laugh and shake my head, I love Stewart's presentation of the news because he says what I am already thinking. For example, he had this to say last night about the Senate's failure to raise the minimum wage: "Kudos to Congress for literally taking a giant shit on the poorest people in the country! They deserve it!"

Now, many people are going to say I shouldn't be a journalism professor if I think that's good journalism. Let me be clear - The Daily Show is unlikely to replace The New York Times in uncovering government secrets such as today's report on another invasion of American's privacy involving banking transactions. But listening to the bland, 'I don't have an opinion about this' way that the MSM reports on these kinds of stories makes me MORE cynical about the system than listening to Stewart, who at least reminds me that there are other people in the country who recognize the absurdity of many of the headlines we read everyday.

From what I understand, the political scientists' study showed clips from The Daily Show and the CBS Evening News to two groups of college students, and found that the group who watched The Daily Show had more negative attitudes towards both candidates. I have serious doubts about this methodology. I'd rather see a study that surveys students' attitudes about politics and civic engagement, and then records their media consumption in a comprehensive way, such as what the Ball State University's Middletown Media Studies have done. Maybe I should put my money where my mouth is and get started on that research.