Think tank concludes ‘Daily Show’ viewers get news elsewhere
By David Bauder
A journalism think tank studying "The Daily Show" doesn’t believe many people get their news from Jon Stewart — because otherwise they wouldn’t get the jokes.
The Project for Excellence in Journalism also said it was surprised at how much the Comedy Central late-night program resembles "The O’Reilly Factor," "Hardball" and other cable news shows in content.
The Washington-based organization asked its researchers to study a year’s worth of "The Daily Show" tapes — hardly a grim assignment — after hearing the frequent claim that many young people learn about the world from Stewart instead of more traditional news sources.
Tom Rosenstiel, the project’s director, said he doubts this is the case. He considers "The Daily Show" more of a political satire in the tradition of newspapermen like Art Buchwald, H.L. Mencken and Russell Baker.
"They’re not making jokes about Dan Quayle is dumb or Gerald Ford is clumsy," he said. "They’re not making jokes that you could get if you live in the country but don’t read the news ... . You can’t get the jokes if you’re not watching the news. The jokes are designed to make you think more about the news."
Stewart has consistently ridiculed the idea that he’s somehow a newsman, saying he’s just a comic.
Politics, government and the Bush administration’s policies in Iraq accounted for about half of the show’s content, making it quite similar to the focus of serious cable news shows, the study said. About 8 percent of the show’s time is spent looking at the behavior of the press.
The show is actually making some very serious political commentary, "but they use humor to do it," Rosenstiel said.
With some stories in no way conducive to humor, "The Daily Show" ignores certain big events. The Minnesota bridge collapse wasn’t mentioned on the show, and the Virginia Tech massacre was largely ignored, the study said.
And, of course, sometimes the news gives way to pure comedy. On a January day when traditional newscasts led with severe winter weather gripping much of the country, "Stewart began his show by pondering what drink would be best to wash down a Jimmy Dean pancake and sausage on a stick," the study said.
The verdict: Gatorade.
While Stewart aims most of his firepower at Republicans, the show is actually pretty balanced in its bookings, the study noted. Of the clearly partisan, 15 guests were conservative and 18 were liberal. Presumptive GOP presidential nominee John McCain was a guest on Wednesday’s show.
"The fact that the lineup of guests is actually even surprised me," Rosenstiel said. "I thought going in that there weren’t that many Republicans who would be willing to go on the show."