The Daily Show with Jon Stewart has become a fixture on the U.S. political landscape (Mutz, 2004). There is much discussion within the popular press as to the legitimacy of emerging satirical public affairs outlets (Trigoboff, 2001), with public opinion polling pointing toward this program type being particularly influential among younger voters (Rutenberg, 2000). A poll conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press reveals that 21% of 18- to 29-year-olds regularly turn to satirical public affairs television to obtain information about presidential politics (Bauer, 2004). In addition to attracting the youth demographic, the 2004 National Annenberg Election Survey revealed The Daily Show audience to be well educated and highly knowledgeable about politics in general (Young, 2004a).
The introduction of The Daily Show as a potential source for political information raises questions concerning how this outlet functions alongside more traditional means of public affairs consumption. Of particular interest to this study is whether the use of one type of programming can alter the perceptions of the other within the minds of audience members. More specifically, this experimental study focuses on how varied consumption patterns of national television news and The Daily Show alter the political gratifications associated with the viewing of these respective public affairs outlets.
The Daily Show offers a satirical critique of various elements of U.S. democracy, capitalism, and, of special importance to this study, journalism as a profession. In short, this outlet presents a competing message type to more traditional forms of television news programming (Baym, 2005). More specifically, the competing messages of various national TV news outlets and The Daily Show offer radically different perspectives concerning the ability of news organizations to be valued information sources for political information. Persuasion scholars have long studied the influence of competing claims (Miller & Campbell, 1959), and this area of research remains a permanent fixture in the social psychology literature (Eagly & Chaiken, 1993). There is solid empirical evidence supporting the claim that when someone comes into contact with two competing messages in immediate succession, the first message consumed tends to be more persuasive (i.e., "the primacy effect"; Petty & Cacioppo, 1986, p. 78). The primacy effect can serve as a foundation from which to begin an assessment of how the combined consumption of The Daily Show and national television news influences the political gratifications associated with the respective political information outlets within a conditional model of media influence.
Young viewers were placed into one of three stimulus conditions for this experiment. Some participants were first shown The Daily Show, and this mediated communication experience was immediately followed by viewing a half-hour of national television news (i.e., CNN Headline News). A second group came into contact with these same program types, but in the opposite order of consumption. Finally, a third set of individuals served as a control group (i.e., no stimulus). Internal political self-efficacy is hypothesized to serve as a moderator between contact with the public affairs stimuli and the political gratifications associated with the mass communication viewing experiences. Literature summaries concerning the study of entertainment television and politics, The Daily Show and political satire, political media gratifications, primacy effects, and internal political self-efficacy are provided. Four hypotheses serve as a foundation for the study. The experimental design and results are summarized, followed by a discussion of The Daily Show as political communication.
Entertainment Television and Politics
Political communication scholarship has long treated entertainment and news media content as immiscible (Bennett, 1998), with all major political communication theories focused on a single type of media content, traditional news (Krosnick & Kinder, 1990; McCombs & Reynolds, 2002; Scheufele, 1999). However, recent works are moving beyond the entertainment--news divide by analyzing potential political outcomes relative to soft news (Baum, 2003), situation comedies (Cantor, 1999), crime dramas (Holbrook & Hill, 2005), made-for-television docudramas (Delli Carpini & Williams, 1996), political dramas (Holbert, Pillion, et al., 2003), and late-night talk shows (Young, 2004b). Indeed, Mutz (2001) stated that "the traditional distinctions between news and entertainment content are no longer very helpful" (p. 231), and the discipline appears to be embracing this point of view.
Williams and Delli Carpini (2002) argued that "the political relevance of a cartoon character like Lisa Simpson is as important as the professional norms of Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw, or Peter Jennings" (p. B15). Not only is the study of entertainment television relevant to the basic tenets of mass-communication-related political communication scholarship (see Holbert, 2005b), but many scholars argue there is a need to study more than news content from a political perspective because the messages being offered via entertainment outlets are qualitatively distinct from those provided through traditional journalism programming (e.g., Gamson, 1999; Holbert, Kwak, & Shah, 2003). The satirical political messages offered via entertainment outlets like The Tonight Show, The Simpsons, Saturday Night Live, or The Daily Show are some of the more explicit examples of how audience members come into contact with entertainment-based political messages that are distinct from the storylines derived through traditional news conventions (Niven, Lichter, & Amundson, 2003). Shah (1998) noted that a diverse set of sociopolitical television messages needs to be analyzed to best reflect the inherent complexity of the medium. The empirical study of entertainment television as political communication simply reflects a desire to better understand a set of sociopolitical outcomes relative to the varied ways in which citizens use this influential form of mass communication.
Not only is it important for political communication scholarship to begin to explore the potential political effects of various entertainment television outlets, but also to assess how the use of various forms of entertainment television might affect perceptions of more traditional public affairs programming. It is not just the case that entertainment television shows can have unique effects on citizens relative to news, but that viewing certain entertainment content has the potential to influence how traditional forms of public affairs material are perceived and subsequently consumed by an audience. This point is particularly relevant to The Daily Show, which models itself on the structure and norms of (or some would argue as a functional alternative to) television newscasts (Baym, 2005; Peyser, 2004).
The Daily Show and Satire
The Daily Show offers viewers a satirical perspective of not only the stories dominating a news cycle, but the tasks of information gathering and storytelling performed by journalists. Jon Stewart strikes the pose of an anchorman, while also taking on the traditional satirist's role of "skeptical and bemused observer" (Knight, 2004, p. 3). Stewart retains a cadre of comedians who gather information on and tell stories about a variety of events, from the substantive to the trivial. In addition, the program offers Stewart, his writing and reporting staffs, and other comedians (e.g., Lewis Black) an opportunity to provide comedic interpretations on a wide range of public affairs topics. As Baym (2005) argued, "The show functions as both entertainment and news, simultaneously pop culture and public affairs" (p. 262). This half-hour program devoted to political and journalistic satire is unique for U.S. television, but the show's format stems from previous comedic outlets using a similar mode of presentation as a vehicle for social commentary (e.g., Saturday Night Live's "Weekend Update").
All forms of satire, whether they are political or take on some other form of broader social commentary, have been defined as "pre-generic" (Knight, 2004, p. 4), in that it is in the nature of satire to exploit preexisting genres. In the case of The Daily Show, the preexisting genre is the national television newscast. The basic aesthetics of the program (e.g., opening music, studio setting) seek to mock TV newscasts. In this sense, The Daily Show is like other forms of satire in that it is "a playfully critical distortion of the familiar" (Feinberg, 1967, p. 86). Audience members, no matter the degree to which they regularly watch national television newscasts, retain at least a limited understanding of the genre's format. The Daily Show uses the audience's familiarity with the national nightly newscast as a means by which to satirize the practice of journalism. As a result, the two program types are intricately connected in people's minds. Therefore, it is important to begin to address how the use of one program type can affect perceptions of the other program type, and how viewing various combinations of both program types affect audience perceptions of each form of public affairs media content.
The Daily Show averages more than 1 million TV viewers each evening (Levin, 2003). The program points its satirical poker not just at those individuals and social institutions making headlines, but the news industry that constructs the headlines. It is important for empirical political communication researchers to better understand how coming into contact with the messages being provided on a program of this type can influence viewers' perceptions of more traditional forms of television news, and vice versa.
Political Media Gratifications
The rise of The Daily Show has brought a series of empirical questions concerning...