What I didn’t learn about Political Knowledge via The Daily Show

I don’t really watch television in my daily life. I don’t get cable (or even basic broadcast channels), and while I am aware of Hulu, and have even made use of it on a few occasions, I generally just don’t make time for it. I have seen The Daily Show a few times though, and I have generally enjoyed it for what it is, so I did look forward to having an excuse to watch it for the assignment.

The two episodes I chose to watch were the October 6th episode and the October 4th episode. There wasn’t really a grueling selection process for these particular episodes. I watched the October 6th one because it was on the main page already and played automatically, and I watched the October 4th episode because I saw that Stewart was going to address the whole Rick Sanchez debacle and I was curious.

In terms of the content covered, the October 6th episode talked about the upcoming Senate elections and poked fun at several of the candidates. The guest, Philip Dray, spoke about labor unions and their history in the U.S. The October 4th episode featured Stewart’s reaction to Sanchez’s comments, which have been discussed in plenty of other news media. Stewart also poked fun at the media’s coverage of his actions and how he addressed the issue at a charity event he attended. The guest for this episode was Sam Harris, who spoke about his book on morality and science.

After watching both episodes, I went to the Google News link provided in the class blog and proceeded to browse the headlines for approximately 20 minutes. These were the stories that caught my attention enough to actually click on the links provided:

This Wall Street Journal article was about social network start-up tips that could be gleaned from the movie The Social Network. This was the first link I clicked and, as I did so, I was particularly cognizant of the fact that this topic was based more on my own research interests than it was from anything discussed in The Daily Show episodes I watched.

This New York Times article talked about how a judge ruled that the health care law is constitutional, and how this was the first time a federal judge had done so. Again, nothing related to The Daily Show content I had just viewed.

This was an Ars Technica article talking about Google TV. I haven’t read much on Google TV, but I’ve seen people discussing it via Twitter and that piqued my interest in this post. The article focused on the high cost, lack of options in terms of controllers, and the clunky design as some of the problems with the device. As I’ve already stated I’m not much of a TV person, I suppose we can chalk up my interest in this article solely to my Twitter network’s influence, but not due to The Daily Show.

This Wall Street Journal article was on banning the use of food stamps to buy soda. My interest here came solely from my personal love of all fizzy drinks and from my lack of knowledge on how food stamps work. Of course, I couldn’t read much since I don’t actually subscribe to the Wall Street Journal online, but it was interesting nonetheless. I wonder what other edible items are banned from being purchased with food stamps?

The CBS news article discussed how the Chilean miners, having been stuck for over seven weeks, may finally be escaping in a few days. I remember this being a huge story when it first occurred, but I realized as I saw this headline that I hadn’t seen anything about it for what seems like a while. I’m glad they’re finally getting out of there.

This NYT FiveThirtyEight blog post on the Senate Race broke down how Republican and Democrat candidates are faring in various states. This topic was actually talked about in one of The Daily Show episodes I watched, and this was the primary reason I clicked on it. Now, here’s where it gets tricky. I’m not entirely sure I clicked it out of any interest in getting further knowledge on the topic, or if I did so just because I was excited to actually see something related to what I had just watched. I had spent about 15 minutes browsing stories at this point, so I knew I was going to be wrapping things up. So I largely suspect the latter, though I did have some interest in seeing a more expanded view, since The Daily Show coverage of the topic was pretty brief.

At first glance, the results of my experience seem to go against what the majority of Xenos and Becker’s (2009) respondents showed. They stated that “the first study provided support for the notion that political comedy can stimulate subsequent attentiveness to news media content among less politically interested viewers” (p. 329). Yet, all my attention was drawn to topics I either had previous interest or knowledge of (that were not from a comedy show), or things that were brought to my attention from Twitter. Only one of the six links I read through had any relation to the episodes of The Daily Show I watched, and my motives for looking at that link are somewhat suspect.

That being said, I don’t necessarily disagree with many of the points Xenos and Becker were setting out to test. According to Braum (2003), “soft news outlets are in the business of making information highly accessible. This makes such information easier for politically unsophisticated consumers to understand and, hence, presumably more appealing to them” (p. 180). It’s that whole “Make Learning Fun” idea, just in fancier language. We always hear so much about how younger generations are not interested in the news, yet we can see the popularity that shows such as The Daily Show and The Colbert Report employ. As Braum stated, ” attentiveness to soft news coverage of political issues may facilitate ‘learning,’ in the sense of providing heuristic cues that help people to make reasoned political judgments, without significantly increasing the volume of factual political knowledge that individuals who are uninterested in politics store in memory” (p. 174). So, I think there is definitely value to these shows, although I would not be so quick to recommend them as a substitute for more traditional hard news sources. Whether they actually are becoming a substitute for many viewers, however, is another question entirely.

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2 Responses to What I didn’t learn about Political Knowledge via The Daily Show

  1. Good point: “I’m not entirely sure I clicked it out of any interest in getting further knowledge on the topic, or if I did so just because I was excited to actually see something related to what I had just watched. I had spent about 15 minutes browsing stories at this point, so I knew I was going to be wrapping things up.”

    It might be, though, that you have more interests (not only political) than the average person who’s not interested in hard news. So you clicked links at Google News b/c they sparked some interest that you have — apart from any recent influences, such as The Daily Show episodes.

    I wonder whether it’s fair to call TDS a substitute for news. Cancel TDS, and it’s not like all those viewers will suddenly START watching news.

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