Daily Show and Colbert affect viewers

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On election night 2008, television news outlets were buzzing with polls and predictions, graphs and gossip. CNN, MSNBC and FOX news were all on the story — but millions tuned in to “The Daily Show” with Jon Stewart on Comedy Central instead.

“The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report,” both political humor TV programs, have the most late-night cable viewers, according to a news release on Comedy Central’s website. Their viewers are people all across the political spectrum and include many BYU students. There are more and more indicators that comedy shows are becoming the main news source for young adults.

Jonathan Morris, associate professor of political science at East Carolina University and author of  “Laughing Matters: Humor and American Politics in the Media Age,” said the main goal of these shows is to present news in an entertaining and humorous way, though it may be biased.

“It’s a biased perspective,” Morris said. “They are going to paint the right and Republicans in not a very positive light.”

He said despite the portrayed bias, most viewers of “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report” are politically informed and are watching to get more information. However, he said among the young adults who watch the shows, some use them as a main source of news.

“[With] young adults under the age of 30, about 25 percent use Colbert or Jon Stewart as a primary source of news,” Morris said, “not necessarily their only news, but the source that they rely on most.”

Morris conducted a survey during the 2008 election where he asked young adults which journalists they trusted the most. The two names listed with the most frequency were Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. He said young people are drawn to this type of news because it is on late at night, they want to be entertained and they tend to lean more politically left.

Morris said trusting one of these programs to be a primary news source could give a skewed view of the world, even to the point that viewers think the government is full of hacks, criminals and incompetent people. He said these types of viewers could be turned off and decide to not become involved in politics at all.

In contrast, he said political humor TV shows could spark interest in the political world and become a gateway to political activism.

John Weaver, a junior psychology major from Salem, said he has been affected by “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report.”

“I can definitely see how it’s effected my political views,” Weaver said. “I’ve definitely used their same arguments when I try to make a point politically.”

Weaver said after watching some of the featured guests, he has researched and discussed the topics with others.

Morris said “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report” could also increase awareness of issues among those who do not watch the news at all.

“A lot of young adults that learn things from these political humor shows would not seek out the news otherwise,” Morris said. “[They] go with the intent to be entertained but actually learn something.”

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