Editorial: Don't Let Comedy Drown Out Out News

This story was written by Editorial Board, Arkansas Traveler




So how about Tina Fey as Sarah Palin? And Amy Poehler as Hillary Clinton delivered some delicious one-liners, as well.



It's Wednesday, and we're still logging on to nbc.com to find the link to watch the clip from Saturday night. In fact, last night, we clustered around a computer to watch the comedic duo when we were supposed to be editing stories and writing editorials. (But we quickly regained our focus.)



Need we have felt guilty for stealing a few moments from our jobs to indulge our penchant for brilliant barbs and informed hilarity, though? Or could we claim such indulgence as research?



Comedians seem to be significant players in this election, after all.



Undeniably, comedians capture news audiences.



According to a June 12 Washington Post article, "CBS Evening News" averages about 5.7 million viewers nightly, but the season finale of "Saturday Night Live" last May attracted 6.5 million viewers.



Jon Stewart's numbers compete with those of cable newscasters like Sean Hannity and Alan Colmes and exceed the numbers of news commentator Chris Matthews. Only Bill O'Reilly consistently draws more viewers than Stewart.



If comedians can count on millions of viewers to tune in, we can count on the idea that their satirical sketches are bound to affect the public perception of candidates.



And, in fact, 39 percent of viewers in the age range of 18 to 29 said comedy shows and late-night programs such as "Saturday Night Live" and "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" informed their opinions of the presidential candidates and campaign at least sometimes, according to a Pew Research Center survey last December.



Supposedly, a Michigan State University professor once said, "My students tell me they read the news for the facts, but they watch Jon Stewart for the truth."



Our professors might not say the same thing -- but only because, as journalism students, we're smart enough to know better than to tell our professors we choose Stewart or Colbert when we only have time to watch one newscast.



What would your professors say? To judge by what we see on the TV screens of our friends right around 10 o'clock, we think they would say UA students watch Jon Stewart when they're supposed to be studying physical chemistry - or showering - or sleeping.



Which is fine. We recognize the genius that is Jon Stewart, and we also agree with Russell L. Peterson, an American studies professor at the University of Iowa, who, in The Washington Post, said true satirists are genuine critics who contribute in a healthy way to the national election conversation.



But the first part of being a responsible media consumer is to "read the news for the facts."



We'd be flattered if, tonight, during the Daily Show commercial breaks, you picked up the newspaperlying on your coffee table and read the facts, too.
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