Yet Another Study Shows US Satire Programs Do A Better Job Informing Viewers Than Actual News Outlets

from the honey-makes-the-medicine-go-down dept

By now it’s sadly clear that the nation’s satirical news programs do a significantly better job at reporting the news than most of the nation’s actual news outlets, despite a fraction of the budget and experience. John Oliver’s recent analysis of Miss America scholarship claims, for example, contained more original reporting in a fifteen minute segment than most Apple regurgitation blogs manage to stumble through in an entire year’s worth of gadget lust. Not only are satirists now doing a better job unearthing the truth, they’re doing a better job explaining complex issues.

Case in point: a study earlier this year out of the University of Pennsylvania suggested that Stephen Colbert explained campaign financing more effectively than most beat reporters. Of course a 2012 Pew study suggested many cable news viewers were less informed than those who watched no news at all, suggesting it’s not too difficult to beat many modern news outlets at their own game when the standards bar is set ankle height.

Satire’s continued rise as one of the country’s most effective and influential original reporting platforms was again on display courtesy of John Oliver’s fantastic net neutrality rant, which not only explained the issue in effective detail, it captured the attention of the dingo-staffed FCC itself (as these recent FOIA-obtained internal FCC memos indicate). It also helped spur the lion’s share of the four million net neutrality comments filed with the agency, blurring the line between not only satire and journalism, but consumer advocacy and activism.

This month a new study (pdf) out of the University of Delaware once again highlights how viewers of satirical programs are significantly better informed on the subject of net neutrality than those who watch traditional news programs:

“The survey also reveals that viewers of satirical shows such as John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight and The Colbert Report are far more aware of the issue than consumers of traditional news sources…Opposition to the creation of “fast lanes” is strongest (86%) among those who say they have heard a lot about the proposed rules, but most Americans say they have heard little or nothing about the topic. The University of Delaware research found that only 10% of Americans have heard a lot about how “the U.S. government is considering new rules for ISPs.” Another 39% have heard a little, whereas fully half (50%) have heard nothing at all about the topic.”

Of course a big reason major news outlets aren’t adequately informing their viewership on net neutrality is because they’re simply not mentioning it. A Pew study from earlier this year studied net neutrality coverage among twenty-three major newspapers and cable news networks, and found most simply didn’t discuss the issue this year. That trend continued this month when the President’s clear support of Title II rules barely made a dent on major networks like Fox News and CNN, and when it did — often saw either misleading and inaccurate analysis, or an over-emphasis on inane aspects of the discussion (like what Donald Trump has to say about the issue).

Traditionally, folks like Jon Stewart have denied that satire can be journalism, largely because while clinical presentation of facts easily offends the nation’s roaming partisan-cheerleader zombie hordes, a humorous presentation of those same facts magically defuses, creating a narrow-minded stupidity firewall through which truth can function (or as my less verbose grandmother used to say, honey makes the medicine go down). In a New York Times article posted over the weekend, Oliver follows Stewart’s lead, stating that what his show is doing is not journalism:

“So, I asked Mr. Oliver: Is he engaging in a kind of new journalism? He muttered an oath, the kind he can say on HBO for comic emphasis, but we don?t say here, adding, “No!” “We are making jokes about the news and sometimes we need to research things deeply to understand them, but it?s always in service of a joke. If you make jokes about animals, that does not make you a zoologist.”

While Oliver’s presentation of the facts utilizes satire and humor, Oliver’s staff has had previous stints at New York Times Magazine and ProPublica, and what they’re doing is absolutely and undeniably investigative journalism. Unless of course you’re an iron-headed, old guard news industry employee who still believes only Walter Cronkite’s talking head has been mystically ordained with the authority to inform the lowly plebeians.

In the end though who really cares if you call this flavor of reporting “journalism,” “investigative comedy,” or “donkey walnuts.” The sole purpose of journalism is to accurately inform and deliver the truth. That’s something that has been increasingly lost with the rise of tepid, he said, she said news reporting that sacrifices truth for the bland, unoffensive illusion of balance — in the process helping to make stupidity fashionable and facts negotiable. It really doesn’t matter if it’s satirists, comedians, or male strippers stepping up and trying to fix the broken news industry — just as long as somebody, somewhere is trying to.

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Comments on “Yet Another Study Shows US Satire Programs Do A Better Job Informing Viewers Than Actual News Outlets”

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80 Comments
pixelpusher220 (profile) says:

'News' outlets aren't

News outlets today would be better described as ‘Podiums where politicians are allowed to speak without fear of cross examination’.

From national to local, ‘reporters’ don’t question their subjects on anything they say. And while it’s sometimes reasonable to allow someone to hang themselves with their own words, blatant falsehoods and dis-proven ‘reasons’ need to be called out publicly or the echo chambers become the truth people believe.

mcinsand (profile) says:

Re: pixelpusher220 nails it!

‘Echo chambers’ is the best term that I have seen to date for the more vocal of today’s ‘news’ outlets. Especially for MSNBC (for the left) or Fox (for the right), their viewers tune in to specifically hear what they want to hear and not that their chosen party might not be wholesomely perfect. They are truly hunting for an ‘echo chamber’ to hear their preconceived notions. And, those echo chambers know that they had better please their audiences, say good things about their chosen political alignments, and declare that the opposition is evil.

funny says:

Re: Re: Re: pixelpusher220 nails it!

Oh man….funny! This comment should be up for the week’s funniest comment. Wow….I can stop laughing!!! “Studies”….love to see the citation on that one. Whew…still laughing!!! “Measurably”….heh….riiiigghhtt….using a scanning electron microscope? Don’t watch either myself…don’t throw my money away on cable. MSNBC is so amazingly accurate that no one watches it (http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/erik-wemple/wp/2014/10/13/msnbc-slides-toward-irrelevance/).

pixelpusher220 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 pixelpusher220 nails it!

Prepare to stop laughing

http://inthecapital.streetwise.co/2014/02/07/study-people-who-dont-watch-the-news-are-more-informed-than-fox-viewers/

NO news is more informed than Fox (and less informed than MSNBC). NPR is the MOST informed. I’ll wait a minute for you to clean up your exploded brains.

More details from above study
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/23/fox-news-less-informed-new-study_n_1538914.html

http://www.forbes.com/sites/kenrapoza/2011/11/21/fox-news-viewers-uninformed-npr-listeners-not-poll-suggests/

Seven separate surveys confirming Fox news viewers are the least informed
http://mediamatters.org/blog/2011/11/22/seven-surveys-make-a-trend-for-fox-and-viewers/167217

And before the response saying MSNBC isn’t great either I’ll add that I didn’t say they were great, only that Fox was measurably worse…which funnily enough, it is.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 pixelpusher220 nails it!

I would argue that Fox News watchers are much more informed than non-Fox watchers. Fox News watchers see all the liberal biased stuff on every other news outlet. They see the conservative biased stuff on Fox. Therefore they see both sides. On the other hand, non-Fox watchers only ever see one side of the issue no matter which other outlet they watch.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:5 pixelpusher220 nails it!

If only it was true that people watch both… You are not taking into account belief perseverence and viewer perspectives.

Either way, all media is biased so watching only one source is worse than watching multiple sources. But as with current internet trend of suggestion based tagging and result filtering, people tend to have too little time to watch multiple sources and the sources they choose generally allign with their beliefs more than their beliefs beign formed by the news.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:6 pixelpusher220 nails it!

I think people are mixing correlation with causation — watching these news feeds does not necessarily cause varying levels of being informed; I would guess (but it doesn’t appear to have been studied yet) that those who want to be more informed seek out different news sources than those who want to be affirmed or entertained. This then creates a feedback loop as the news services provide more of what their audience wants.

People who enjoy satire tend to be critical thinkers, and critical thinkers tend to glean more actual information from their environment where others would just be entertained without applying intent to the gathering of knowledge.

So if everyone was forced to watch John Oliver and Colbert, you’d probably find that the same people would respond the same way they do now, with a few outliers. It’s not always that the news isn’t presented, it’s just that some people choose to engage with it while others choose to feel “newsed” without actually learning anything of import.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 pixelpusher220 nails it!

“Fox News watchers see all the liberal biased stuff on every other news outlet.”

Logical error #1: The bias of the other mainstream news outlets is not liberal. It’s corporate.

“Therefore they see both sides.”

Logical error #2: There are many, many more than two “sides”. If you’re only getting two (or if you think that those particular two are even the most important ones), then you are and are being misinformed.

tqk (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:6 pixelpusher220 nails it!

Go watch Al-Jazeera English, then come back to me.

Yes? I regularly read AJE. Where else can you talk to honest-to-gawd IS/ISIS/ISIL Jihadis/nutbars/murderers? 😛

There are also many thoughtful, knowledgeable, and educated people commenting on their stories. It’s a bit of a shock to see many Muslims hate some other flavor of Muslims more than they appear to hate people like me. They all hate Kurds, yet Kurds are predominantly Muslim. Sunnis hate Shiites and vice versa, Iran (Sunni?) hates Arabia (Shia and Wahabist) and vice versa, China just lost a bunch of Uighurs but Thailand’s trying to track them down, … It really is a mess of the highest order. To not expect that mess to spill over onto the West (9/11) is lotus eater land.

AJ does a good job of objectivity, I think. It’s why their reporters seem always to be in trouble in Arab countries.

The Misanthrope says:

Re: Re: pixelpusher220 nails it!

“…their viewers tune in to specifically hear what they want to hear…”

Precisely. The Daily Show, e. g., despite a liberal slant isn’t afraid to take a shot at liberals when that shot needs taking. MSNBC and Fox will hardly ever – unless someone needs to go down for someone more desirable on the same side to gain advantage.

David says:

I am not surprised

Most of the political developments in the U.S.A. seem to be indistinguishable from satire.

I think it was Tom Lehrer who stated “political satire became redundant when Kissinger was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize”. And the U.S. has progressed a lot since then.

The progressive comedy of lies accompanying the gradual release of the Snowden papers really had no place in actual news reporting since the abysmal truthiness content became obvious after a few repetitions and it was clear that the government was no reliable source of information. No reputable news organization would have wanted to rely on sources with such lousy track record.

I think I forgot the point I was trying to make. Good for me.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: This happens all the time

either had any Republicans until last week

Thanks for proving my point. Fox knows about him only because a dedicated citizen found him out. The Dems hid the entire Obamacare bill and process because they didnt’ want this stuff exposed. Now that it has been exposed, they do their best to ignore it until it goes away. Just like Benghazi and a host of other issues.

Yes, they are uninformed and/or bought off on Net Neutrality. But my point is that most Dems believe the Dem party is not beholden to corporate masters when indeed they are. Just look at the current story on TechDirt about big Ag.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: This happens all the time

Someone obviously hasn’t been paying attention. The US has been a pseudo-democracy since before Reagan, and likely since before Truman.

The corruption’s gross acceleration can be put down largely to Citizens United, regardless of which side of the political aisle you sit on in ‘Soviet Amerika’.

tqk (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 My assumption was that most GOP loyalists

…believe the party is controlled by their own church.

Which, granted, are also corporate interests that just happen to not produce a physical product.

So, lets try to do better on that Church – State separation thingy next go round? It should be freedom from religion, not of religion. You go ahead and be a luddite (or whatever) as long as it doesn’t impact me.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 My assumption was that most GOP loyalists

As people so love to forget, seperation of church and state is a concept which came about primarily to get the state to sod off and stop trying to dictate to the individual on matters of religion. Not to remove all religious influence from the state. (which can’t/couldn’t be done in most places without disenfranchising the bulk of the electorate anyway.)
When you have a government banning prayer in schools (as a non specific example off the top of my head), that’s not enforcing such a seperation, it’s Violating it.
Of course, so would dictating that There must be prayer in schools.


Not really sure where i was going with this.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Prayer in schools

I think part of the problem with prayer in schools is that the laity are not very good at logic, and so it’s not easy for them to agree on what is acceptable behavior regarding religion in an academic institution.

The easiest part is seeing that teachers and administrators are agents of the institution, and therefore agents of the state, ergo they are supposed to remain neutral when it comes to religious matters. Ergo, neither teacher nor coach nor administrator should lead a group of students in prayer, or risks alienating those who may not share the same belief system.

So what of a kid bringing his bible to class? I think I’d regard that the same way as if a student brought his iPad or his Nike sneakers. On its own, its a personal effect. The problem is solicitation. Once he starts pressuring other kids to wear Nikes or Apple products, that would (typically) be regarded as a problem. It’s the same thing when he solicits other kids to join his faith.

Now other Americans don’t see it that way. In fact in many states, teachers and instructors in public schools gladly push their own religious beliefs and disparage students whose religious beliefs are not compatible. There have been cases in which one’s grades have been contingent on acceptance of one faith or another.

So given that we can’t even get our own schools even to accept the wall of separation as a given, we’re not yet to the point of dissecting its nuances.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: This happens all the time

“But my point is that most Dems believe the Dem party is not beholden to corporate masters when indeed they are.”

I’m not so sure about this. 99% of the Democrats that I know are constantly bemoaning the influence of corporation on the party, so your point is false at least for the ones around here.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: This happens all the time

“Thanks for proving my point.”

If your point wasn’t to attack Democrats, then it appears that you had the same point as the article – that all “sides” are equally uninformed about certain issues. Singling out one party over another in your comment (while ignoring the fact that neither party represents the views of everyone on their “side”) is exactly the kind of partisan bullshit that’s killing your country and making you a laughing stock.

“Fox knows about him only because a dedicated citizen found him out.”

Wasn’t that entire “scandal” about what he said in public speeches? Nobody “found him out”, it just took some time for the general public to do the journalists’ job for them.

Anonymous Coward says:

A Pew study from earlier this year studied net neutrality coverage among twenty-three major newspapers and cable news networks, and found most simply didn’t discuss the issue this year.

Well sure, the NBC affiliated networks would hate it if ISP Comcast (part of the conglomerate) got screwed by Title II. Same applies to CNN/ISP Time Warner Cable, and News Corp/Viacom think they can profit off of the web by prioritizing their content.

Rocco Maglio (profile) says:

Comedy News is problematic

There is a problem with comedy news and that is that they have no accountability. If they make false statements they just say that are a comedy program. If they are news they should be held to account like everyone else or they are not held to account and everyone should know they are not news. I remember when Jon Stewart claimed that the picture was not Anthony Wiener, since he had seen his junk and it was not that big. That turned out to be false and I did not hear Jon make an apology. It was a big story since it ended the political career of a rising star and member of Congress. Jon Stewart made several false claims to try to help his friend.

Gwiz (profile) says:

Re: Comedy News is problematic

There is a problem with comedy news and that is that they have no accountability. If they make false statements they just say that are a comedy program. If they are news they should be held to account like everyone else or they are not held to account and everyone should know they are not news.

Wait. Who, exactly, do you think the mainstream media outlets are accountable to, beyond the stock holders of whichever corporation owns them?

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Journalists aren't really accountable.

Bloggers are journalists, and have no accountability except their citations and their reputation.

And journalists that are attached to reputable news providers are only as accountable as the standards and vigilance of their editors. Some take it seriously in order to sustain that reputation.

The Los Angeles Times for instance tries hard because young Hearst had a chip on his shoulder about what a yellow-journalistic hack his father (William Randolph) was. The Christian Science Monitor tries hard as well because the founder was all about making a paper with integrity and non-bias. (And no, neither one always succeeds in keeping facts straight or staying unbiased, but there is effort.)

Tech Dirt really tries to keep all the facts straight, and have a reputation enough to draw the attention of US Senators. Probably because it has a bit of a following and shows up early on Google Searches.

But, whether solid and reputable or lying hacks (or even lazy hacks) they’re all journalists.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Comedy News is problematic

“If they are news they should be held to account like everyone else or they are not held to account and everyone should know they are not news”

Operative word is “should”, because ….

Court Ruled That Media Can Legally Lie
http://www.projectcensored.org/11-the-media-can-legally-lie/

Now, you were saying something about accountability?

jupiterkansas (profile) says:

If you make jokes about animals that makes a zoologist laugh, you may not be a zoologist, but you’re definitely speaking their language. It shows understanding.

But the greatest strength of the Daily Show cohorts is not reporting the news, but in pointing how how horribly the mainstream media reports the news.

Why anyone even bothers watching televised news anymore is beyond me. They are not going to tell you what you need to know, and they are mostly in a holding pattern awaiting some tragic event.

joncr (profile) says:

Nothing Labeled 'News' Is The News

The thing the satire shows have in common with the shows that call themselves “news” is that both are interested in the actual news only as raw material for generating shtick and content that creates ratings and revenue.

The satire shows set out to entertain by confirming and comforting the biases and egos of their viewers. The news shows do the same thing to stoke their viewers anger and indignation.

Baron von Robber says:

Re: Local News

PS. John Oliver is definately the best thing to hit TV (k, cable).
It’s funny, entertaining and you learn a lot from his show. When his show was adverting before show 1, I had know idea where he was from, etc, so I wasn’t interested. Now, I want to see every episode.
And everybody in my office likes to watch him too. Gives me a little bit of hope that maybe things will change with this as a start.

Nicci Stevens (profile) says:

Consider the source

I have always said that, in this day of instant information from a variety of sources, that to be truly informed you need the whole picture. If it is US Politics you can’t just watch CNN, Fox, MSNBC or The Daily Show or Steven Colbert. Ideally once must examine all of those sources. I also throw in BBC and Al Jazeera. Everyone editorializes. It’s the way we speak (and its a good thing)

The “fake news” outlets like The Daily Show, though, offer more facts and a good part of that reason is that, in this theater of the absurd we call the real world, facts are a great basis for humor and humor sells advertising, or a Liam Neeson once put it, in a fairly awful movie, “Bums on seats, luv”

ECA (profile) says:

Truth over Propaganda

The Problem I see, tends to be FINDING TRUTH, over BS(I use BS over propaganda, its Shorter and more descriptive).

TRYING to wade thru the BS to find Facts is overwhelming.
When Everyone/group is throwing BS at you and there is only 1 truth out there, HOW do you find it.
THEN who decides the truth? Esp. after 300 IDIOTS get to decide YOUR TRUTH, in the nation, and fill it up with Gobbledygook..

If I am right, the Obama Medical bill was 300 pages, and after 300 PAID LEGISLATORS got done with it..it was 3000.
Our TAX laws would fill a small Library with loop holes and incongruity.

In LOGIC of 300+ people, 200 Major CORPS(controlled by 7 Other corps), 4 FUEL corps(Natural gas, Gasoline, Solar, Nuclear,…) and 300 million Consumers..There is no truth.

tqk (profile) says:

Re: Truth over Propaganda

The Problem I see, tends to be FINDING TRUTH, over BS(I use BS over propaganda, its Shorter and more descriptive).

Agreed.

TRYING to wade thru the BS to find Facts is overwhelming.

Also true, though this tends to diminish over time (we hope). I used to hit Slashdot first thing every day, but no longer. I very much enjoy Columbia Journalism Review, but they appear to be attempting to monetize and paywall their stuff, so not so interested now. Just keeping up with TD can be pretty taxing. How do we find the time to keep up with the other ten/twenty/… things that we consider important? Do I really need six hours sleep each night, or can I use the weekends (when TD’s asleep) to catch up on other stuff, and sleep?

When Everyone/group is throwing BS at you and there is only 1 truth out there, HOW do you find it.

That’s a mistake. Not everyone is spewing BS. Lots are, but not all. There also isn’t only one truth. People have individual points of view. You can’t say that what’s right for you is right for everyone else. Some things are objectively outside of our opinion (ie., scientific facts), while some others aren’t (copyright, patents, voting restrictions, Spotify/Netflix/Uber/Net Neutrality/…).

THEN who decides the truth?

You do, for you. I do, for me. Fox/MSNBC does for their viewers and shareholders.

In LOGIC of 300+ people, 200 Major CORPS(controlled by 7 Other corps), 4 FUEL corps(Natural gas, Gasoline, Solar, Nuclear,…) and 300 million Consumers..There is no truth.

Your country (USA) is seriously fscked up in a lot of ways, and it appears to be getting worse daily. Yet ca. 7 (?) billion people manage to sleep through their nights and wake up to their days, and go on in the world. They’re not getting away with that if there is no truth.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Truth over Propaganda

“When Everyone/group is throwing BS at you and there is only 1 truth out there, HOW do you find it.”

Get your news from a variety of sources. Compare the reports of the same issues between the various sources. Over time, you will get to know what slant each source has, and will be able to fine-tune your BS filter.

Also, keep track of what the different sources have said about different issues over time. For nearly all stories, the truth does come out in the end — it just might be a few years later. Once you know the truth, you can go back and see which news sources were closer to it than others. You’ll find that there are certain ones that do better on the accuracy front than others. Then you have a better idea of which sources you can start ignoring, and (combined with your knowledge of the biases) how much you can trust which sources for new news stories.

Keeping up with the news is an active process, not a passive one.

tqk (profile) says:

Re: Re: stoped reading cmmnets @11

… what is your definition of a “reporter” or a “journalist”?

I used to think it was someone who’d studied (University/College) journalism, then found work attempting to ply their trade. I used to date a journalist. It was a torrid affair. 🙂 I still dream about her.

Now, it’s anybody who can convince GoDaddy to sell them an IP address.

Have I got any of it right?

Rudyard Holmbast says:

“Case in point: a study earlier this year out of the University of Pennsylvania suggested that Stephen Colbert explained campaign financing more effectively than most beat reporters.”

In other words, Colbert parroted the left’s view that it is simply too unfair to allow various individuals to exercise their First Amendment rights by airing campaign ads targeting politicians with whom Colbert agrees. Oliver is just another partisan hack.

Coyne Tibbets (profile) says:

It's about editorial independence

It’s really not surprising. Satirists generally pay close attention to editorial independence, because their satire is all they have to sell. As a result, they retain the freedom to satirize what they want and are generally topical.

On the other hand, the news media can sell ads and pablum, so they gave up all editorial independence long ago.

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