Posted by: paulacunniffe | 10/09/2010

Honing my political knowledge through The Daily Show

Jon Stewart. Am I the only person who remembers him from that movie Big Daddy with Adam Sandler?! I hadn’t watched a full episode of The Daily Show before this week. I watched Tuesday and Thursday’s show online. It’s annoying you can’t get away from the commercials even if you watch it online! Tuesday’s ‘news’ portion focused on a story about President Obama apologizing for medical experiments carried out on Guatemalan mental patients in the 1940s, where they were infected with syphilis (in a variety of disgraceful ways).

Lewis Black also did a segment about an NBC series on education and the documentary ‘Waiting for Superman’. I saw Lewis Black doing stand up in Ireland last summer. He’s incredibly jittery in real life which makes him hard to watch. I also literally ran into him on his way offstage in a dash to the restroom. I hope that’s not my claim to fame.

Thursday’s show talked a lot about house foreclosures, which I’d already heard a bit about in the news.

Do you notice how Stewart brings actors on to talk about their movie and then doesn’t talk about it once? And how he always seems to be promoting his rally or his book? On Thursday he spent half his interview with Naomi Watts talking about some benefit he organized that she attended.

The ‘soft news’ approach makes the stories covered more accessible and digestible, especially for people who do not watch ‘hard news’. However, I agree with Xenos and Becker that political comedy is a ‘supplement to, rather than a replacement for, traditional hard news.’ (p319) I would not watch The Daily Show in the future to get my daily dose of news.

During my Google news browsing I didn’t find myself actively seeking out political stories. I looked at a story about Fox’s Glenn Beck sending out Mormon coded messages on his show because I wrote about Glenn Beck in a previous post. I was interested in the foreclosure story on The Daily Show, especially because the situation is similar in Ireland so I read a story in the Washington Post about the moratorium. AP had a story about anti-gay bullying strategy in schools following a recent spat of suicides amongst teens. Apparently conservatives think it’s ‘unnecessary and manipulative’ and will sway feelings towards homosexuality. I scanned a lot of international news but didn’t read more than the first paragraph.

I picked up on stories I was previously interested in. Watching The Daily Show didn’t make me automatically interested in political stories. I was just as interested in finding out more about Naomi Watt’s new movie as politics.

Baum talks about factual knowledge effects of ‘soft news’ and how ‘soft news’ may be more suited to ‘influencing attitudes and providing informational shortcuts’ (p 181) than providing long term learning. I agree. The Daily Show brought topics such as foreclosures to my attention but I did not pay close attention to details within these stories.



  1. I had completely forgotten about his part in “Big Daddy” until you mentioned it. What an awkward role! I agree with you regarding Baum’s discussion on how “soft news” may be more suited for providing informational shortcuts as opposed to long-term learning. I think shows such as “The Daily Show” provide news in a “Spark Notes” format where just the “juicy” parts are highlighted and are then turned into a humorous rendition of the actual news event. Though Jon Stewart’s coverage of political events doesn’t cause me to do further research, the humorous manner in which he presents the stories do stick in my head for a while. I have found myself reflecting on a political parody he did when confronted by a “hard news” version of the same event.

  2. I had a similar reaction to my own scanning of the headlines after watching The Daily Show. I didn’t feel as though it influenced me at all in learning about the political topics that were discussed, although to be fair, most of the headlines available were on topics unrelated.

    Oddly enough, on the episodes I watched, Stewart actually tailored his interviews to be about the subject matter surrounding his guest’s books (the guests for both episodes were authors). While he did talk about his book and upcoming rally, they were in their own segments.

  3. You kind of touch on the problem with these as a primary source of news — they make a joke of everything. And quite frankly, politics are not always funny. Sometimes there are serious issues that should be considered and not dismissed…Stewart sort of has an attitude that everyone else in the world but him is stupid…that can be close-minded, which is not a good thing! I also agree, I looked at headlines I was already familiar with.

  4. Maybe just as Lodge and his colleagues said, “individuals may rapidly forget the facts surrounding a given issue or policy, yet remember how they felt about it.” I agree with you that the “soft news” only bring up topics to our attention, we do not follow up the details of it.
    The Daily Show creates a topic, not in-depth discussion. I watched the Oct.15 Bruce Willis’ interview on his new film, but they didn’t discuss about the film but warned kids about shaving their heads… The show uses funny words to capture attention, make the hard news easy to digest(?), but what do we(audience) really learn from it? Knowledge? Or just a laughter.

  5. “The ‘soft news’ approach makes the stories covered more accessible and digestible, especially for people who do not watch ‘hard news.” I agree with this point and we hit on it in class that “the lower opportunity cost” makes soft news more appealing to those who are less likely or unwilling to watch hard news. I do agree that soft news should supplement not replace or be your primary source of gaining information. But people should also be mistrusting and seek out content from several places as we discussed to ensure that they are being informed citizens able to contribute to democracy.

  6. I have never seen Big Daddy, but he came up in a conversation recently about Adam Sandler.

    Even if Niaomi Watts isn’t related to politics, I think the experiment worked on you because it caused you to think about the broader picture and not just the snippet you saw on The Daily Show.

    I wonder though what the spark would be that inspires people to get off the couch and search out additional information. Sure, they might have their interest piqued, but something has to be there for that extra motivation not to let the “learning opportunity” pass you by.


  8. “I was just as interested in finding out more about Naomi Watt’s new movie as politics.” Aha! Isn’t that because you saw her on The Daily Show, and Jon Stewart didn’t let her tell you as much as you wanted to know? 🙂

    I think much of our news “knowledge” (using the word loosely) stems from simple familiarity. When my best friend told me in October 2008 that her 14-year-old son did not know who Joe Biden is (he asked why the bumper stickers said “Obama – Biden”), we both lamented. People who watch TDS probably have a better idea of what’s going on in the world than the non-hard-news consumers who don’t watch it.

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