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.

  • That’s what’s wrong with the pundit class -no education.
    Perhaps Richard Morin should study Will Rogers and Mark Twain to see that mocking pompous politicians is nothing new.

    I think Aristophanes did that as well…

  • Ugh, when I saw this column I nearly shat a brick. Thanks for your spot-on assessment, Jeff. To think that our cynicism is caused by something other than the ridiculous state of politics and our hypocritical “leaders” is to be seriously, sadly misguided.

    The irony is that The Daily Show is a bright spot in the otherwise depressingly dark newsmedia landscape. My cynicism swells most when I watch CNN or FOX talking heads bark at each other in the name of balance, all while trying to break down complex political issues in 13 seconds or less.

  • These so called experts think this is a new phenomenon? I listen to oldtime radio on my XM and Red Skelton of all people rips the pols of the time new ones. Not to mention Bob Hope and a few others. What a waste of grant money.

  • kim

    I wonder what Republican paid for this study. I was so glad to to see Jon Stewarts co host do his speech at the White House Correspondants dinner. I have no doubt the man is going to cut everything down and around this show.

  • How can that be possible that Jon Stewart is causing cynicism in politics among the young.

    Do we young folks don’t have any brains and don’t we know what are we following!

    Uuh! these hyppcrates leaders they have made a politics a dirty game!!

  • From the PDF:

    Overall, the findings in Table 8 show that for young people, no other news source drives cynicism toward the candidates and the political system more than The Daily Show.

    That’s one hell of an endorsement for the show, if you ask me. Cynicism (stemming from a lack of trust) of politicians and the political system is a positive reaction, in that it indicates a concerned and informed mind and that it protects against the trampling of rights brought about by complacency.

    Cynicism is a (classical) Liberal value, and one that isn’t embraced enough. Just look at what percentage of voters vote for Republicans or Democrats as opposed to those who vote for alternative parties. Where’s the cynicism? A vote for the status quo is an admission that you’re so complacent you can’t taste the shit you’re being fed, or that you simply don’t care.

    A complacent voter says the glass is half full. A cynical voter says the glass is half full of poison.

  • Jim Wilson

    Hey! It’s not just “the young” who watch Jon Stewart and who happen to be skeptical (the word I prefer). I and my 60-something friends watch it regularly, because we find that it reflects, not causes, our disgust with the current political process. I’d guess that that attitude crosses all the demographic groups who watch the show.

    It certainly beats watching Katie Couric read the latest White House spin.

  • kurotenshi

    One has to have some knowledge of politics if one is to even understand half of the jokes on TDS. This is why the show is so popular. The tongue-in-cheek comments made by Stewart et al. are brilliant, not solely because of their cynicism, but because they point directly to the inadequacies of a government/MSM that thinks we arent paying attention. And furthermore…I have yet to meet any “kids” that watch TDS, although these so called kids would/should thank the critics for the youthful characterization.

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  • Mike from NYC

    I rarely watch Jon Stewart but I’m a cynic of politics nonetheless. I think any sencient person who reads about politics would be just as cynical as me. And age hasn’t helped the matter at all.

    Since I became aware of (in the 60s) , and read about politics and our nation, I have come to the conclusion, as sooo many others have, that politicians today are basically useless and rather than to pass laws in the ‘interest’ of the USA, they pass laws in the interest of their political party and of course, for their re-election.

    I favor term limits and the dismantling of the electorial college.

  • Paul

    I’m sure Stewart would have been against invading Poland and the construction of the Bergen-Belsen and Dachau work camps. Traitor. People like him are against the Fatherland/Homeland and are a detriment to the advancement of rich whites. All I can say is “No”. Just say it with me.