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Monday, April 16, 2007
Who preaches to the informed?
Very interesting new study released Saturday by the Pew Research Center. The survey-based study measures citizen knowledge of current affairs and politics, with predictably sobering results: about two-thirds can name the current US vice president (who might be the most powerful and prominent VP ever).
Many polls have tackled that subject in the past, and others have asked the public what media they consume, often revealing the aging audience and overall decline of, say, the network nightly news programs and daily papers. But this study did some interesting cross-referencing. It measured citizen knowledge broken down by the media they like to read or watch. The results are a little strange.
Viewers of The Daily Show fared better at current affairs survey questions than did viewers of PBS's NewsHour with Jim Lehrer and National Public Radio (which NPR program not specified). The natural question here is whether the truth is that Jon Stewart is more informative than Jim Lehrer -- if so, that's an ouch for Lehrer -- or if Stewart attracts a crowd that's more educated (and affluent) to begin with. I strongly suspect it's the latter, since Stewart is basically the poster child for the northeastern secular liberal elite that the Rush Limbaughs out there love to hate. (Limbaugh's listeners scored a 51% on the survey, while Stewart's viewers scored a 54. Judging by the tightly grouped results and large sample size, that's a significant difference.)
However, if the informed audience of the Daily Show is just a function of whom it attracts, it's interesting and even encouraging that on average a less informed person turns to Lehrer's real news over Stewart's fake reports. Not that there's anything wrong with good parody.