Satire in politics: Informing (or misinforming) the masses

Published: Thursday, Feb. 17 2011 12:00 a.m. MST

In a column published Wednesday on The Huffington Post, author Amber Day argues that more Americans are turning to satire to become politically educated — and that its a good thing for the country.

"The pull toward the ironic, I believe, is directly related to the increasingly manufactured quality of contemporary public life, Day writes. As these conditions have escalated, so too has the desire to poke holes in the spectacle, challenge the truth-value of statements made by elites, and shift the way in which issues are framed.

Day posits that the role of satirists in the political discourse is important because it helps amateurs and professionals take the discussion out of the hands of scripted authority figures, creating a new stage for political debate.

Political parody, irony and satire have not only surged in popularity in recent years, but they have become complexly intertwined with serious political dialogue, Day wrote. In questioning the status quo and the standard political messages reverberating through the echo chamber, new and provocative discussions are being heard, which ultimately help foster a more meaningful and honest debate in the country.

According to a 2008 Pew Research Center study, "The Daily Show" host Jon Stewart was named as a journalist that most Americans admire. But, Stewart isnt a journalist — a fact that he has repeated often — hes a comedian.

In 2008, New York Magazine reported that Stewarts show had roughly 1.4 million viewers per night, while another satirical show, "The Colbert Report," had 1.3 million. In 2007, the Pew Research Center stated that 16 percent of Americans regularly watched "The Daily Show" or "The Colbert Report" — numbers comparable with viewers of "The OReilly Factor" on Fox News.

Following the release of a 2004 study, CNN reported that viewers of "The Daily Show" came ahead of David Letterman and Jay Leno viewers on a political quiz. According to the study, they also knew more about election issues than people who regularly read newspapers or watch television.

Additionally, in a 2006 study researchers at Indiana University found that "The Daily Show" contained as much substantive news coverage as network news.

It is clearly a humor show, first and foremost, assistant professor of telecommunications at Indiana University Julia R. Fox said in a news release. But there is some substance on there, and in some cases, like John Edwards announcing his candidacy, the news is made on the show. You have real newsmakers coming on, and yes, sometimes the banter and questions get a little silly, but there is also substantive dialogue going on Its a legitimate source of news.

As political satire becomes more prevalent, the line between real news and satire often becomes blurred, making it harder to separate truth from fiction.

On Feb. 1, MSNBC host Rachel Maddow was duped by the satirical website ChristWire.org. On the site, a fictional article stated Sarah Palin needed to lead the way in calling for an American-led invasion of Egypt.

As the largest recipient of foreign aid next to Israel, the United States has a tremendous investment in keeping Egypt stable and relatively terrorist-free, the article stated. Upon her direction, other Western nations are sure to join us.

After the information was found to be satire, Maddow acknowledged the mistake on her Twitter account.

According to The New York Times, Maddow isnt alone in falling to ChristWire.orgs satire. The Atlantic Wire has identified instances of organizations like NBC Los Angeles and The Huffington Post also being fooled by the website.

Sarah Palin has often gained unwarranted attention for political satire pieces, including recently when she was falsely quoted as saying she would deport Christina Aguilera for her performance of the national anthem at the Super Bowl.

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