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Lampooning Democracy: How "Fake" News Affects Political Knowledge and Engagement

Lecture given January 5, 2016, at the First-Year Symposium, Davis & Elkins College, Elkins, West Virginia

Elizabeth Cohen

on 10 October 2016

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Transcript of Lampooning Democracy: How "Fake" News Affects Political Knowledge and Engagement

Lampooning Democracy: How "Fake" News Affects Political Knowledge and Engagement
What is "Fake" or Satire News?
"Type of parody presented in a format typical of mainstream journalism, and called a satire because of its content"

Is Comedic Journalism
The purpose of satire news is entertainment, not information

Satire news not beholden to professional journalism's principle of objectivity
Is Comedic Journalism
Even Jon Stewart intimated that fake news isn't, or at least it shouldn't be equated with "real" news
Is Comedic Journalism
Elizabeth L. Cohen
Who Consumes (Television) Satire News?
Younger people
Slightly more men ...

Slightly more college educated people ...

plus ...
Is Comedic Journalism
(Fox, 2007; Brewer & Marquardt, 2007)
Early analyses of satire news content find that over 50% of stories deal with a political topic or world affairs, and that satire news can be "just as substantive as broadcast network campaign coverage"
Stewart, in response to being criticized by CNN show hosts in 2004, for not asking hard-hitting questions in his interview of John Kerry:

"It's interesting to hear you talk about
my responsibility. I didn't realize that --
and maybe this explains quite a bit … that
the news organizations look to Comedy
Central for their cues on integrity.”
Viewers tend to think of satire news more as an entertainment source
rather than a news source
BUT ...
Instead of simply asking how much of our entertainment
news is "real" news, shouldn't we also ask how much of
the "real" news is entertainment and not news?
“You're doing theater, when you should be doing debate … You're on CNN. The show that leads into me is puppets making
crank phone calls … You have
a responsibility to the public discourse, and you fail miserably.”
With the rise of 24-hour news channels and pundit shows, the distinction between entertainment and news is a false dichotomy
- Jon Stewart to Crossfire Hosts
Effects of Watching Comedic Journalism:

Political Engagement
Exposure to satire news can increase cynicism and reduce trust in government and politicians
But ...
Exposure can also increase political participation by increasing efficacy, or
how capable people feel to participate
in political processes
(Hoffman & Young, 2011)
(Baumgartner & Morris, 2006; Balmas, 2012)
Effects of Watching Comedic Journalism:
The Future: Comedic Journalism Activism?
Satire news acts as a gateway to other "real" news sources

(Feldman & Young, 2008)
Satire news viewers are generally well informed compared to consumers of other
news sources
(interestingly, with comparable knowledge to both Rush Limbaugh and NPR listeners)
This finding held even across varying degrees of political knowledge, suggesting it a show effect and not an education effect
(Hardy et al., 2014)
Effects of Watching Comedic Journalism:
Compared viewers of other news sources,
Colbert Report
viewers evidenced increased perceived and actual knowledge of campaign finance regulation after Colbert's series on super PACs and 501(c)(4)s
Why Might Comedic News Be a Particularly Good
Format for Conveying Information?
Humor captures attention, and makes things easier to remember

Humor encourages exposure (to even unpleasant topics
Does Satire News
Probably not much...
Funniness can make people less likely to resist persuasive messages, but the funniness can also make people counterargue against persuasive messages more ... so it doesn't turn oppositional
people off, but it doesn't turn them on either

For some,
The Colbert Report
had an effect opposite
of what was intended: Exposure lead to increased
affinity for republican politicians and causes.
(Boukes, Boomgaarden, Moorman, & deVreese, 2015)
Archie Bunker Effects?
(Baumgarten & Morris, 2008)
Learning Is Conditional on Whether People Think of
Satire News as News or Entertainment
Viewers who see it as a mix of entertainment
news, invest more mental effort in the messages than those who watch exclusively for entertainment.
Calls to action are becoming and increasingly
common feature in satire news.
Anecdotally, they seem successful.
John Oliver launched 45,000 comments that crashed the FCC's web site
Humor makes motivates more indepth message

Understanding satire requires active decoding
(more involvement with the message on TV)

Satirizing news and politics could make hosts
seem more trustworthy
What is Satire News (Comedic Journalism)?

Who consumes Satire News?

Is Satire News Really Entertainment or News?

How does Satire News Affect Political Knowledge, Persuasion, and Participation?
The Science of Satire News
in 45 minutes or less...
Should Comedy News and "Real" News Be Held to the Same Standards?
Archie Bunker Effects?
Questions to Ponder:
Why do you think satire news continues to gain popularity?

Is the rising popularity in satire news good or bad for journalism and democracy?

Should comedic journalism be held to any professional standards like professional journalism?
Full transcript