In what might just be one of the most fun pieces of research ever conducted, ever, the Project for Excellence in Journalism spent 2007—yes, the whole year—watching, analyzing, and likely guffawing at footage of…The Daily Show.
Ugh. Why do data analysts always have all the fun?
Anyway, per the study’s summary report, released today:
When Americans last year were asked to name the journalist they most admired, showing up at No. 4 on the list was a comedian. Jon Stewart, host of The Daily Show on Comedy Central and former master of ceremonies at Academy Award shows, tied in the rankings with anchormen Brian Williams, Tom Brokaw, Dan Rather and cable host Anderson Cooper.
Are Americans confused? What is Stewart doing on his program, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, which might cause people to consider him a journalist? How is the show similar to, and different from, what people get from the mainstream press?
And among PEJ’s (quite interesting) findings:
* The program’s clearest focus is politics, especially in Washington. U.S. foreign affairs, largely dominated by the Bush Administration’s policies in Iraq, Washington politics and government accounted for nearly half (47%) of the time spent on the program. Overall, The Daily Show news agenda is quite close to those of cable news talk shows.
* The press itself is another significant focus on The Daily Show. In all, 8% of the time was made up of segments about the press and news media. That is more than double the amount of coverage of media in the mainstream press overall during the same period.
* A good deal of the news, however, is also absent from The Daily Show. In 2007, for example, major events such as the tragic Minneapolis bridge collapse were never discussed. And the shootings at Virginia Tech, the most covered story within a given week in 2007 by the overall press, received only a cursory mention.
* Republicans in 2007 tended to bear the brunt of ridicule from Stewart and his crew. From July 1 through November 1, Stewart’s humor targeted Republicans more than three times as often as Democrats. The Bush Administration alone was the focus of almost a quarter (22%) of the segments in this time period.
* The lineup of on-air guests was more evenly balanced by political party. But our subjective sense from viewing the segments is that Republicans faced harsher criticism during the interviews with Stewart. Whether this is because the show is simply liberal or because the Republicans control the White House is harder to pin down.
Will The Colbert Report soon have its moment on PEJ’s seat of heat? Stay tuned.