Chicken, meet egg

The Washington Post’s Richard Morin quotes two political scientists who say that Jon Stewart is causing cynicism in politics among the young.

Oh, come on. Cynicism about politics is not Stewart’s fault. It’s politics’ fault. Let’s get our cause and effect straight, Profs.

Could it just be that the mainstream press protects the mainstream political structure and when Jon Stewart calls bullshit on both camps, he’s telling the truth that others dare not tell? And could it just be that he’s not making a joke of politics; politics already is a joke?

Two political scientists found that young people who watch Stewart’s faux news program, “The Daily Show,” develop cynical views about politics and politicians that could lead them to just say no to voting.

That’s particularly dismaying news because the show is hugely popular among college students, many of whom already don’t bother to cast ballots.

Jody Baumgartner and Jonathan S. Morris of East Carolina University said previous research found that nearly half — 48 percent — of this age group watched “The Daily Show” and only 23 percent of show viewers followed “hard news” programs closely.

To test for a “Daily Effect,” Baumgartner and Morris showed video clips of coverage of the 2004 presidential candidates to one group of college students and campaign coverage from “The CBS Evening News” to another group. Then they measured the students’ attitudes toward politics, President Bush and the Democratic presidential nominee, Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.).

The results showed that the participants rated both candidates more negatively after watching Stewart’s program. Participants also expressed less trust in the electoral system and more cynical views of the news media, according to the researchers’ article, in the latest issue of American Politics Research.

“Ultimately, negative perceptions of candidates could have participation implications by keeping more youth from the polls,” they wrote.

Maybe you should test for the MSM effect?

: LATER: Here’s a PDF of the study, thanks to Antonia Zerbisias. I couldn’t find it before but Marty Kaplan at HuffPost did and he says:

It turns out that Stewart fans also trust their own knowledge of politics more than do network watchers. Young Daily Show viewers blame the elites who run the political-media system for the mess we’re in, not themselves. They think they really get what politics is actually all about. And, says the study, here’s an idea worth entertaining: “citizens who understand politics are more likely to participate than those who do not.”

In other words, the cynicism and discontent that the Daily Show breeds could “spawn greater involvement,” say the authors; Stewart watchers could actually “become more active voters.”

Yes, the study also contemplates the other possibility: that cynicism is a voter-turnoff. “Whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing,” say the authors, “we just don’t know.”

Is there a reason that the Washington Post piece dwelt exclusively on the half-empty side of the argument? I suppose that reflecting what the study actually says — on the one hand, on the other hand — just wouldn’t have cut it for a column. And making the half-full case exclusively instead — Jon Stewart, Fighter for Democracy — might not have gone over well in a town whose media and political elites don’t much like being nailed on television as the dickwads and asshats that they are.

Hmmm… The more that young people learn the truth about the political process, the more they get their news from multiple sources, the more gatekeeprs there are for information — the more they just might want to shake things up, throw incumbents out, and make Washington accountable for its hypocrisy, mendacity and incompetence. What a concept!

So half-done msm reports about studies about msm should perhaps make one cynical about msm, in other words.