Richard Morin Cherry Picks Research on the Daily Show

I keep finding more problems with what Richard Morin wrote on Friday about youth and voting.  I assumed there were some logical problems with his analysis, but now it looks like Morin actually misrepresented the study he cited.  Newscorpse has a great post to that effect.  To flesh this out a bit more, here's what Morin highlighted about the study:

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.

This is a woefully misleading representation of the study (located here).  First of all, the authors of the study concluded that we don't know what the effect of the Daily Show is on voting patterns.  They mused that it could be positive, or it could be negative.  And indeed, turnout among youth actually went way up in 2004, increasing more than among any other age group.  But here's something else the authors of the study wrote that Morin does not mention in his column.

The results indicate that the effect on internal efficacy is positive for The Daily Show and suggests that even though The Daily Show generates cynicism toward the media and the electoral process, it simultaneously makes young viewers more confident about their own ability to understand politics.

According to the study, the Daily Show was the only show that increased skepticism about the media.  Morin also didn't mention this.

Relatedly, we found that exposure to The Daily Show increased internal efficacy by raising viewers' perception that the complex world of politics was understandable. Stewart's style of humor paints the complexities of politics as a function of the absurdity and incompetence of political elites, thus leading viewers to blame any lack of understanding not on themselves but on those who run the system.

I wonder why Morin doesn't give readers an accurate reading of the study, citing only the parts that confirm his bias against those who puncture the prestige of political coverage.  I suppose it's because the media and political elites are used to cherry picking evidence.

The Washington Post's public ombudsman can be reached at 202-334-7582 or at

Tags: Richard Morin, youth (all tags)



Stewart gives more news than networks

You get more accurate news on the fake news show of John STewart than you do on the networks.

And I'm willing to bet that the Stewart audience votes more than the average american, is more informed than the average American, and is more attuned to politics than the average American by a LARGE LARGE margin.

by bigdavefromqueens 2006-06-24 01:37PM | 0 recs
by maladiaz 2007-02-28 03:12AM | 0 recs
Another major flaw of the study

There's an other problem with the study methodology.  It looks at responses of two groups of college students, who were not chosen on the basis of whether or not they watch The Daily Show.  So their responses were not representative of those who choose to watch The Daily Show.  Those who choose to watch The Daily Show are apt to differ from the others, for example perhaps by being more likely to be interested in politics.  And the reactions to The Daily Show from those who choose to watch it also are apt to be different from the college students the study looked at.  The fact that some more-or-less randomly selected college students are distanced from politics by watching the program tells us nothing about the reaction of those who choose to watch it.  Perhaps those who choose who watch The Daily Show are made MORE, not LESS, determined to change things.

by Jay Gold 2006-06-24 02:32PM | 0 recs
Re: Another major flaw of the study

I would describe that as a different study, not a flaw in this one.

It would be interesting to see the results of a study of how TDS affects its own viewers as you describe. But these researchers were seeking to document the effects of TDS on an impartial subject.

For example, if you were taste-testing a new soft drink, you could test a group of people at random or a group of people who identify themselves as cola drinkers. Both studies have merit.

by News Corpse 2006-06-24 02:53PM | 0 recs
Re: Richard Morin Cherry Picks Research on the Dai

Outstanding. This is a great update to your previous post. I'm sure WaPo will update their deceitful article with the same celerity (yeah right).

btw...I wrote an article a while back comparing the credibility of The Daily Show with that of the Conventional Media: The Real Fake News. [Spoiler - The CM doesn't fare too well]

by News Corpse 2006-06-24 02:43PM | 0 recs
Re: Richard Morin Cherry Picks Research on the Dai

Thank you for updating your post.  This speaks very highly of your credibility -- and puts you in stark contrast to Morin.

by Cold Cardinal 2006-06-24 04:07PM | 0 recs
One or two points...

First, there is a general problem with the treatment of scientific studies in newspapers and other popular media: even science correspondents writing in the most stuffed shirt style in the top papers will want a gee whiz factor which, if push comes to shove, they will twist out of the study by selective quotation.

That is especially likely with a study with results as (to non-statistician me) weak as this one. It's got the media tag, but there's no real money shot in the conclusions.

Second, I think there's a decent objection to be made to having a single guy do both straight reporting and opinion, jokey, off-the-wall and other non-straight genres. Especially when it's the Post and that guy happens to be its head of polling.

(Milbank has been in a similar straddle for a year or two now. The Post evidently have decided to take the flack. Morin might be different.)

Third, a piece like Morin's column, whoever it's written by, is bound to be a risk for the paper. If there's a temptation to skew research in a regular science news piece, how much more when you're trying to entertain?

I'd not be surprised to find other examples of stretchers in past columns.

(Kind of reminds me of the Freakonomics boys and their problems with the supposed link between abortion and falling crime rates. Tricky.)

At least, the Post-ies could get another hack in to write the column and take it out of its provocative A2 slot. Put it in the Style section, perhaps...

But - having said all that, I still can't see any sensible lefty order of priorities which would see the Morin affair covered rather than, say, the large range of issues raised by New Direction - which, for a document containing the Dems '06 domestic policy agenda, seems to have got remarkably little play in the lefty sphere.

by skeptic06 2006-06-24 04:17PM | 0 recs
Re: One or two points...

actually, I disagree.  Morin draws the opposite of a reasonable reader of the data would conclude.

unless we are going to say it is unreasonable that an opinion editor understands what he is reading.  and I'm not willing to go that far.

I think you should crosspost on dailykos.  it is pretty busy w/attacks on the media right now, though.

by alivingston 2006-06-24 05:09PM | 0 recs
Daily Show audience

A comment made by Jon Stewart about the Daily Show audience was that one had to understand the joke to get it.  That being true, then the Daily Show does not generate more cynicism for the cynicism already exists to understand the humor.  Instead, the Daily Show provides an outlet for the pent up cynicism which no other show does.  The show is successful because it provides a medium of what the audience already believes is true; but, is rarely expressed.  I am curious if the study discusses the level of cynicism prior the viewings.

by myopic4141 2006-06-24 05:53PM | 0 recs
Re: Richard Morin Cherry Picks Research on the Dai

It seems to me that a major unspoken assumption in Morin's conclusions is that cynicism leads to decreased participation.

As noted in the 2004 Pew Research Study

Those who say they regularly watch the Daily Show with Jon Stewart are much younger than average just 17% are 50 and older. But they are relatively well-educated 38% are college graduates and are fairly knowledgeable about current events (47% all four correct).

And as Media Matters pointed out, the nonpartisan Annenberg Public Policy Center's National Annenberg Election Survey found Daily Show viewers to be better informed on campaign issues than consumers of other late-night television programs, newspapers, network news, or cable news "even when education, party identification, following politics, watching cable news, receiving campaign information online, age, and gender are taken into consideration." And Nielsen Media Research statistics showed that Daily Show viewers are more educated and affluent than the viewers of The O'Reilly Factor.

It would be hard to find a bigger cynic than me, but that just means more reasons to work for change.

by hono lulu 2006-06-24 09:59PM | 0 recs
this isn't the first time ...

... that jon stewart has been accused of disenfranchising the youth of america with his unpatriotic brand of cynicism.

in march, the boston globe ran a guest op-ed by michael kalin "why jon stewart isn't funny", which draws the same conclusions morin does, relying not on cooked surveys but floating on nothing but his limited imagination.

i was nonetheless inspired at the time to "tweak" his essay with a post of my own called "why ann coulter isn't funny". it's amazing how replacing some names and party affiliations turns the whole diatribe from unintentionally absurd to just plain absurd.

by truth hurts 2006-06-24 11:37PM | 0 recs
Re: Richard Morin Cherry Picks Research on the Dai

There's a site to register your support for Jon and disgust with the Post's column.

Please visit today!



by Paulpaz 2006-06-25 03:32PM | 0 recs

Jon Stewart?  Yeah, he's not funny. His humor is big with gay or really liberal men...and that's fine but the humor just does not resonate with your average male.

by danredmond 2006-06-26 07:58PM | 0 recs
Daily Show

If anything the Daily Show is doing the opposite, it has created a market that has never existed before, people are actually finding politics interesting, granted John Stewart isn't fair but he admits his bias...this show is tapping an otherwise apathethic market of 18-30 year olds who vote at the lowest level. If you ask me that is what their research is showing not that the Daily Show is hurting voting if anything the Daily Show is making people vote. This is just the lowest voting demographic.

The biggest problem is there are so few funny/emjoyable news outlets on TV today - if the coversative voice created their own Daily Show then things would be great, instead people are tuning into John Stewart because he's A) funny B) informative C) they can get all their news in a half hour D) he's against the mainstream media

If you want people to tune into the news and watch it, the program has to be enjoyable or else no one but journalists, bloggers, and political science nerds (like me) are going to watch, the Daily Show is the best thing to happen to the news in decades in my opinion.

by KYpundit 2006-06-27 11:52AM | 0 recs
Confidence vs Competence.

>makes young viewers more confident about their
>own ability to understand politics

I'm entirely confident that I can fly a jet. Why? Because if an idiot like Buuush can do it, it's cake for a clever individual such as myself.

That's the impression I get from people who really, really like Stewart.  The snarky, eyerolling attitude that the world is made up of idiots - save for the elite few who "get it" and clearly understand things deeper than the rest of the masses.

by Fatmouse 2006-06-27 12:22PM | 0 recs


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