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The Science of
The Daily Show

Sen. Barack Obama cracked wise with Jon Stewart last night, appearing on Comedy Central's The Daily Show for the first time since he officially declared his candidacy.

The twotalked in earnest about press coverage of the campaign, controversy between candidates that's cooked up "to sell papers" and the story line that places Obama and Clinton at opposite ends of the experience spectrum. There were some jokes --one kind of garbled one at Mike Gravel's expense -- and some meta humor about invading Grenada -- for practice! -- where Obama fumbled the pronunciation of the country. That's a gaffe, Stewart said, wondering how it would play in those papers people are trying to sell.

Those kinds of knowing one-liners mixed with serious policy discussions are a hallmark of the program, which has regularly played host to high profile politicians and candidates. And in a first for a basic cable comedy fake news program, the show has also spawned a genre of academic literature on how fake news impacts perceptions of real newsmakers.

One contributor to that field is Jonathan Morris, an assistant professor of political science at East Carolina University and co-author of a journal article called "The Daily Show Effect."
He thinks candidates flock to Stewart's Manhattan set for two reasons: to make themselves seem more likeable and for damage control.

"Our research found that when The Daily Show covers a topic, the humor comes in ridiculing politicians. There's an easy way to control that: just go on to the show," Morris said. "When candidates appear on those shows they increase their likability, even to partisans on the other side."

But how much good can a short spot with Stewart actually do? It's an open question, but the 2004 precedent isn't that promising.

"John Kerry went on the Daily Show multiple times and had fairly good appearances," Morris said. "Bush did not. Did it help Kerry? Well, no."

Obama has also said that if he's the nominee youth voter turnout will increase by 25-30 percent. But, based on Morris's research, sparring with Stewart isn't the best way to get those numbers up, despite the show's youthful demographic. Even though Obama was greeted warmly by the Daily Show audience, Morris said that among the channel surfing viewers who caught his brief appearance on TV, it's not likely that many will be equally enamored.

"We found that among young adults, exposure to the program led to lower overall evaluations of both candidates and lower faith in the electoral system as a whole," Morris said. "They see a see a picture of the political world that shows a broken system. It could lead young adults to say 'I'm not going to get involved in this.'"

--Rachel Dry

By Post Editor  |  August 23, 2007; 11:20 AM ET
Categories:  B_Blog , Barack Obama  
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