CMPA Studies Jon Stewart And His 'Sour Patch Kids' of Negativity

The Center for Media and Public Affairs, the long-time shingle of academic media-bias expert Robert Lichter (have you ever read "The Media Elite"?), has a new study out on just how negative "The Daily Show" was in the week leading up to Election Day 2006. CMPA, also the former home of MRC research guru Rich Noyes, has long specialized in studying the political tilt of TV jokes as well as TV news. This study suggests that if negativity is a problem in our political culture, then Jon Stewart ain’t the solution:

Comedy Central’s highly-rated "Daily Show" program covered the 2006 mid-terms with a nearly unanimous negative tone, according to a new study released by the Center for Media and Public Affairs (CMPA). While the show bills itself as ‘fake news,’ their reporting prior to the election was 97% negative – far more unfavorable than network news coverage of the Mark Foley scandal, and even of Saddam Hussein – though equally harsh towards Republicans and Democrats.

The major findings were:

Nary Is Heard a Favorable Word: In its pre-election coverage, "Daily Show" correspondents evaluated candidates and policies negatively 97 percent of the time. When compared to traditional broadcast network news coverage over the years, this is more negative than the coverage of the GOP during the Mark Foley scandal (88% negative) and Saddam Hussein during the first Gulf War (88% negative).

GOP vs. Dems, Flotsam Versus Jetsam? If not necessarily fair, the "Daily Show" was balanced in its depiction of the two political parties. 98% of the evaluations of Republicans prior to the election were negative, while 96% of the ‘reporting’ on Democrats was negative.

Top Targets: The politician who was most frequently mocked during the run-up to the election wasn’t a GOP lawmaker, but former Democratic Presidential candidate John Kerry. The top four targets of "Daily Show" abuse were Kerry, President George W. Bush, GOP Congressman Don Sherwood (accused of strangling his mistress) and Senator Mike DeWine. The number one political issue satirized was the use of electronic voting machines.

Negativity Begetting Cynicism? An East Carolina University academic paper from earlier this year suggested that "Daily Show" viewing had "detrimental effects, driving down support for political institutions and leaders among those already inclined toward nonparticipation." This report’s findings – showing 97 percent negative coverage towards political leaders and political issues – reinforce this concern.

These results are based on CMPA's ongoing scientific content analysis of election coverage on the ABC, CBS and NBC evening news, as well as "Daily Show" coverage in the week leading up to Election Day.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis