Monday, May 15, 2006

Stupid researcher tricks

I was lured in by the headline on Raw Story: "Daily Show Makes Youths Cynical."

According to a recent study published in the May issue of SAGE Publications' journal, American Politics Research, researchers conclude that young Americans' political views are negatively impacted by watching the popular The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, which airs late night on Comedy Central as a 'fake-news program.'

Researchers Jody Baumgartner and Jonathan S. Morris, both assistant professors of political science at East Carolina University, selected The Daily Show due to its popularity among college-aged viewers. Previous research showed that over 47 percent of this age group watched the 'soft news' television program, while only 23 percent followed 'hard news' programs closely.

The study was conducted utilizing video clips from The Daily Show and CBS Evening News, a more mainstream television program that aired coverage of the 2004 presidential candidates, followed by a questionnaire. The results showed that the participants tended to rate both candidates more negatively when exposed to The Daily Show. In addition, their views of the political system as a whole were more cynical.

"If young Americans learn about candidates via Jon Stewart," the researchers conclude in the article, "it is possible that unfavorable perceptions of both parties' nominees could form, ultimately keeping more youth from the polls." These implications for political participation should be explored further.
Let's unpack this nonsense, shall we?

Perhaps the best way to point out the stupidity and bias implicit in this release is to offer the release as I would write it:

According to a recent study, researchers conclude that young Americans' political views are negatively impacted by Americans gain a more sophisticated and nuanced view of politics and politicians by watching the popular The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, which airs late night on Comedy Central as a 'fake-news program.'

The study was conducted utilizing video clips from The Daily Show and CBS Evening News, a more mainstream television program that aired coverage of the 2004 presidential candidates, followed by a questionnaire. The results showed that the participants tended to rate both candidates more negatively when exposed to The Daily Show. In addition, their views of the political system as a whole were more cynical accurate.

"If young Americans learn about candidates via Jon Stewart network news, which rarely challenges official spin," the researchers conclude in the article, "it is possible that unfavorable perceptions of both parties' nominees could form, ultimately keeping more youth from the polls. unrealistic and inaccurate perceptions could be perpetuated, leading to bitterness and disillusionment when they learn the truth." These implications for political participation should be explored further.

Same results, very different interpretation.

Who the hell are these guys to tell us that cynicism is bad, and that unquestioning regurgitation of White House talking points is good? They admit that more college kids watch Stewart than network news -- do they think that these kids would watch more network pablum if there was no "Daily Show"? Do they think that would be a good thing?

I'm guessing that what this study is really about is the researcher's distaste for the Daily Show and its "liberal" politics. And it is quite teling that they chose to ask a fuzzy, judgment-laden question about attitudes, and avoided the really interesting and important question: whether Daily Show viewers are better informed than non-viewers.

Well guess what? It turns out that that question has been asked and answered. We know that Daily Show viewers are better informed than viewers of Leno and Letterman, and better informed than those who watch no late-night TV. In fact, according to a 2004 study by the Annenberg National Election Survey (pdf), "Daily Show viewers have higher campaign knowledge than national news viewers and newspaper readers - even when education, party identification, following politics, watching cable news, receiving campaign information online, age, and gender are taken into consideration.”

My college professors encouraged critical thinking and skepticism. If Professors Baumgartner and Morris are troubled by them, perhaps they should find another line of work. I'm sure Karl Rove could find a place for them in the Ministry of Propaganda.

Oh, and "East Carolina?" Did we admit another state while I wasn't paying attention?

4 Comments:

Anonymous John In Mississippi said...

There actually is an East Carolina University. Not that it matters.

3:44 AM  
Blogger Gary said...

Minor professors at a little known college. One has a blog and reveals his biased and limited understanding of recent history. Strong Bush supporter.

http://jodyb.net/war.html

Jody C Baumgartner

3:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Insulting their university or the researchers personally does little to address the content of the story or the validity of the research. Many smart people do good work at little-known universities.

What should be questioned here is the old "stimulus-response" behavioral psychology approach. If I hook a frog's leg to a wire and send it electricty the frog's leg will jump every time, even though it may be detatched from the frog. The same assumption is used time and again in media effects research: I give you a stimulus, in this case two different news clips, and then I measure your immediate response. From this response I can then conclude the effect of this message.

This type of research has earned countless of media researchers tenure at all levels of universities. Sadly, it is accepted and repeated endlessly in popular media "horror stories" about the evils of media messages.

A more enlightening (to me) field of research tries to explain media messages by placing them in the culture from which they originate. "Meaning is made at the intersection of audience and text (message)." I would suggest young people are not "made cynical" by clips of the Daily Show, but that the abysmal political climate and cultural mileu (including mainstream media news) of the country has made them cynical before coming to the Daily Show. I agree that it reinforces their attitude, but i won't agree that it can create that attitude. Media is only one of a myriad of cultural factors that shape a person's attitudes and behaviors.

This study was useful mostly in getting the professors published and on the road to tenure. It also reflected and reinforced existing conservative attitudes AND existing liberal attitudes that already existed in the audiences. It CAUSED nothing.

5:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

gary,

Dr. Morris is a self proclaimed "Daily Show" fan, and uses it's text book and clips as teaching methods. I am fairly sure from taking his class he is a liberal.

Minor professors at a minor university? Where did you get your doctorate, Gary?

10:04 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home




see web stats