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Satire and Politics in 2007

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Satire and Politics in 2007

The United States has had a history of great leaders. Washington, Lincoln, Roosevelt, Truman, the list goes on and on. Right now, however, it appears that this is not the case. Our current President has one of the lowest approval ratings in the history of our country (Newsweek). However it is almost time for the Bush era to come to an end. With the upcoming Presidential Election, citizens pay more attention to politics, world affairs, and news shows than usual. There are many different sources of news ranging from television, newspapers, and the internet. With technology constantly changing, many young Americans turn to alternative sources for their news, and some researchers and politicians feel that this is a problem. These young Americans rely on satirical, or “fake news” shows, along with internet resources such as Youtube to get updated on current affairs, and learn about Presidential candidates. According to a survey done in 2004, Warner found that 50% of Americans between the ages of 18-29 get at least some of their news from shows like the Daily Show or the Colbert Report. This is a dramatic change compared to the 2000 research which showed that only 9% watched these programs. These “fake news” programs are shows such as, Comedy Central’s The Daily Show with John Stewart, and The Colbert Report. We investigated whether or not satirical news shows can actually influence a voter’s opinion about a political candidate.

Satire: a working definition Satire is when a person makes fun of or ridicules actual fact based information in a way that can influence the opinion and attitudes of the audience. Satirical news shows and internet sites use satire to deliver their top stories, unlike regular news programs. According to Baumgartner and Morris, “compared with traditional hard news, these programs feature lower levels of public affairs information and focus more on drama, sensationalism, human interest themes, and personalities.” Baumgartner and Morris feel that these news programs are more worried about entertainment rather than delivering actual fact based news. Baumgartner and Morris also argue that, “these soft news programs threaten the integrity of the democratic process by overemphasizing trivial events, downplaying significant public affairs, and oversimplifying the complex reality of these issues.” We disagree with Baumgartner and Morris just because we do not see satirical new programs as a “threat”. People have the right to gather information any way they want, whether it is from a CNN news program, or a Comedy Central spoof show. There is an ongoing argument that the viewers of these satirical and soft news programs gain a false perception of their knowledge on political issues. Baumgartner and Morris have done recent research that challenges this claim. Baumgartner and Morris agree with the research of Baum that was conducted from 2002-2005 that, “politically inattentive citizens gather valuable information as an incidental by-product of exposure to soft news, especially regarding foreign policy events. Thus, watching entertainment based programming can contribute to political learning.” As a fan of both the Daily Show and the Colbert Report I can say that I am fully aware that I do not know a lot about politics, but I do feel that I get some good facts from these programs. I also feel that although they don’t go into as much detail as a real news program, you still get the main idea of the story by watching these shows. With the growing popularity of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, theses shows are able to attract some of the front runners in the Presidential race. According to Baumgartner and Morris the effects of these shows have a much larger and influential impact when a political candidate actually appears on the show. Baumgartner and Morris report that a number of hopefuls appeared on The Daily Show in 2003 and 2004. These hopefuls included some big names such as Dennis Kucinich, Howard Dean, and John Kerry. Stewart continues to attract big names to his show, and has already interviewed Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton to discuss the upcoming Presidential election. Clinton and Obama are the two minority candidates that are in the upcoming Presidential election, and are frequently shown in clips that make fun of them. Coming on the Daily Show and doing the interview can help the audience see the real person. Some researchers argue that satirical news shows can get away with too much on their shows. According to Warner, John Stewart and the Daily Show act as “political culture jammers.” Warner claims that because the show is supposed to be a joke, they can get away with expressing their voice and opinions to the political conversation and get away with it. Warner also argues that “the Daily Show does not work by rational argumentation based on facts.” We disagree with this statement by Warner because all of the stories that The Daily Show reports on are fact based. They are the same stories that are being shown on CNN and Fox News, the difference is that because The Daily Show is a comedy, they can basically make fun of the stories that are being reported. The Daily Show also adds in sarcastic comments, but to us not many people could confuse these with serious quotes. The way satirical news programs are set up can also influence attitudes of voters. Warner explains that it is John Stewarts “strategic use of video” that makes his program so influential. Warner describes that Stewart has a video screen over his right shoulder like most regular news programs do, but John Stewart will often stop the videos to talk to them and pose a question to the video, and when the video resumes the response is hilariously delivered from the tape. Warner then describes that Stewart’s comments are not comments made by normal news anchors. Most anchors do not take time to ridicule or joke about the situation, especially when it is a serious one. We hypothesize that by satirical news shows setting up their programs to mimic actual news programs, satirical news programs do affect the viewer. By seeing the satirical news shows in that format, could make a person feel like they are watching real news. Satirical news shows are normally very biased programs. For example, the Daily Show is a very liberal show that spends the majority of the time making fun of our current leaders, while the Colbert Report is more for the right winged side of politics that backs most of our leader’s moves in a sarcastic way. Warner’s final argument is that shows like these provide nothing but cultural jamming. Each news program shows the same politicians and the same stories, but each puts a different spin on the story. When satirical news programs show their sarcastic and satirical clips of a Presidential candidate it can have a major influence on a voter’s opinion. How a candidate presents himself to the audience, or how he is presented to an audience can be very influential to the voter. Baumgartner and Morris state, “Many evaluations center on personal attributes, for example, how well they are liked, how honest they are perceived to be, and whether they can be trusted to do the right thing.” They go on to explain that the way that these shows negatively reflect on all of these attributes can leave people with a negative message that is very persuasive and memorable. We agree with Baumgartner and Morris and think that by satirical news programs putting a negative spin on the Presidential candidates eventually the viewer will start develop negative opinions about the candidates. We feel this is especially true when it comes to minority candidates. Voters are already hesitant to vote for a minority candidate and that is obvious by the simple fact that we have never had a minority President. Our research attempts to investigate this phenomenon. Our goal was to conduct a survey with thirty participants. We were trying to see if satire has any effect on the way people perceive politicians. We constructed a survey of fifteen questions and distributed them to our participants. The participants then watched about fifteen minutes of satirical video clips that discussed politics. The participants were then given the exact survey again. We agree with the research mentioned earlier, and feel that these clips negatively affected our participants.
Method
Video Clips We are researching the effects that political satire has on the opinions and attitudes of potential voters regarding minority candidates. We have collected various videos from Youtube.com, The Daily Show with John Stewart, and the Colbert Report and put them into a short satirical clip on the political candidates. A survey consisting of fifteen questions has been constructed and will be submitted to our participants before and after the video. Our participants consist of young voters ranging from the ages of 18-25. These participants also range in their political views between Democrats, Republicans, and people that do not follow politics regularly. Demographics Our survey was passed out to over thirty people, however of the thirty that actually completed it, 18 were female and on 12 were male. Our survey is biased because it was only distributed to people that we know and have access to. All of our participants are Kent State students, and all are living in the Kent area. Why Survey We are choosing the survey method because we think it will give us a better grasp of people’s attitudes toward minority candidates before viewing the satirical news clips, and after the satirical news clips. We believe that the survey will also give us the opportunity to get a take on the participant’s political beliefs and background as well. Survey Process The survey will be distributed and completed prior to viewing the video clips. The survey contains questions that are designed to get a feel for the person’s political views, and how the participant feels about America having a minority candidate. The participants will then watch the videos, which the main focus of the video is minority candidates, and then will be asked to complete the survey again. We will then compute the data and see if there is any significant change in opinions. The survey questions are designed to test the participant’s political views and beliefs as well as their attitudes on minority candidates. By asking these types of questions we will be able to see if the participant has the same view points on many major political issues as the minority candidates in question. The results of these questions will help us find if people vote just based on the color of skin and gender of the candidate, or if political issues really come into play. We will also be able to see if these satirical videos can portray the candidates in such a way that it can change the opinions of our participants. By completing this research we expect to find that political satire has a major effect on the way viewers perceive presidential candidates. We expect for the survey to be marginally different after watching the video clips than before, especially when it comes to participants who do not pay much attention to politics to begin with. We also believe that our research will show that before watching the video, participants will agree with a lot of the opinions of the same minority candidates that they are so opposed to.…...

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