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Saturday, September 25, 2004

The Path to Knowledge 

The various cable news outfits are frantically dumbing down their product in an attempt to duplicate the lowest-common-denominator ratings success of Fox. If they gave a rat's ass about their ostensible function of keeping the electorate informed, here's the model they'd be emulating instead:
Viewers of late-night comedy programs, especially The Daily Show with Jon Stewart on the cable channel Comedy Central, are more likely to know the issue positions and backgrounds of presidential candidates than people who do not watch late-night comedy, the University of Pennsylvania’s National Annenberg Election Survey shows.

Polling conducted between July 15 and Sept. 19 among 19,013 adults showed that on a six-item political knowledge test people who did not watch any late-night comedy programs in the past week answered 2.62 items correctly, while viewers of Late Night with David Letterman on CBS answered 2.91, viewers of The Tonight Show with Jay Leno answered 2.95, and viewers of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart answered 3.59 items correctly. That meant there was a difference of 16 percentage points between Daily Show viewers and people who did not watch any late-night programming . . . .

“In recent years, traditional journalists have been voicing increasing concern that if young people are receiving political information from late-night comedy shows like The Daily Show, they may not be adequately informed on the issues of the day,” said Dannagal Goldthwaite Young, a senior analyst at the Annenberg Public Policy Center who conducted the research. ”This data suggests that these fears may be unsubstantiated. We find no differences in campaign knowledge between young people who watch Leno and Letterman – programs with a lot of political humor in their opening monologues -- and those who do not watch late night. But when looking at young people who watch The Daily Show, we find they score higher on campaign knowledge than young people who do not watch the show, even when education, following politics, party identification, gender, viewing network news, reading the newspaper, watching cable news and getting campaign information on-line are taken into account.”

Young people who watched The Daily Show scored 48% correct on the campaign knowledge test while young people who did not watch any late-night comedy scored 39% correct. Meanwhile, young people who watched four of more days of network news scored 40% correct, equally frequent cable news viewers 48% correct and newspaper readers 46% correct.

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