Fake news shows offer real education

By Oliver Joszt and Laura Mortkowitz

With the Writers Guild of America on strike, where will college students get news? After all, the strike means The Colbert Report and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart are on hiatus and will be showing reruns until it’s resolved.

What options are left to the college student eager to know what is happening in the country? A newspaper? A real news show?

The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press released a survey in February that showed half of 18- to 29-year-olds regularly or sometimes get their news from these two shows. Yet, the American youth sometimes forgets that these two shows are exactly what the hosts tout them as: fake.

“Television shows such as the [The] Colbert Report or [The Daily Show with] Jon Stewart, among others, while highly entertaining, should not be viewed as a replacement for genuine news programs,” said Stephen Crescenzi, adjunct political science professor.

Although Stewart’s show does have some genuine news value in segments like “Cluster@%#$ to the White House” and “Mess O’Potamia,” the rest borders on ridiculous; once, correspondent Rob Riggle followed a woman who believed cupcakes are dangerous to children.

Colbert’s show fosters the Republican views of his “hero,” Bill O’Reilly, and Colbert’s television persona, not to be confused with the actual Stephen Colbert, a former correspondent on Stewart’s liberal show. The Colbert Report mixes in news with segments like “The Word” and “Threat Down.”

Although students like junior Sheena Gayomba realize they are not “really getting the full story,” the shows are liked because Stewart and Colbert are unbiased in their ridicule.

“With Stewart and Colbert, you know what you are watching: Comedy Central,” said junior Pat Conroy. “[The purpose is] to make fun of the status quo and the different media.”

Students might not understand that Stewart and Colbert are to be taken alongside other media outlets, but there are some that pay attention to newspapers and other news shows.

“I think Stewart and Colbert would be the first to be upset if viewers took the programs on their shows to be real news,” president of the University Republicans Kyle Battaglia said. “However, I do think that their shows are an important part of the political process; satire is a very important medium.”

Stewart has publicly said that his show is a fake news show. In fact, that was his very response to John Edwards in 2003 when the senator announced on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart that he was running for presidential candidacy.

In an interview with The Associated Press a year ago, Stewart said, “There’s no way you could get the news from us. I’ve seen the show. It couldn’t happen.”

Yet, college students appreciate the light-hearted fun of the shows as opposed to the strict news of other shows.

“Many college students believe that we have not joined our parents yet,” Conroy said. “We do not watch CNN; we are not Walter Cronkite [or] Dan Rather disciples.”

Sometimes it is nice for students to have a little fun in today’s world where the news channels are dominated by the constant threat of terror.

“It lightens up what most people our age find to be boring and archaic,” Battaglia said. “Most college kids do not care about politics and such.”

Stewart and Colbert also bring much-needed humor and release from the blunders of political leaders. The hosts chuckle at everyone’s expense, whether Democratic or Republican.

“They make fun of everybody, including Hillary Clinton and George W. Bush,” Gayomba said.

Stewart poked fun at how Clinton’s laughter seemed forced to the point of being robotic. Colbert challenged Dennis Kucinich to empty his pockets on the show. Kucinich accepted and emptied his pockets until the last item — a shrunken, dancing Colbert — was pulled out.

“I am a big fan of both Colbert and Stewart, even though I definitely do not agree with their politics,” Battaglia said. “You need to take a step back from it all and just have a laugh now and then.”

The popularity of Stewart and Colbert has grown so high that paraphernalia with the logo “Stewart/Colbert ’08” has emerged.

Colbert’s run at presidency in South Carolina ground to a halt when he refused to pay the expensive Republican ballot registration fee and was rejected from the Democratic ballot.

The two seem content to remain watchdogs on the government and to help bring out what’s funny in the serious problems.

“Those shows often present issues in a simplistic and inaccurate manner, which may be dangerous to those forming opinions based solely on entertainment presentations,” Crescenzi said.

Yet, the Pew Research Center survey showed that those most knowledgeable about major public figures and events were viewers of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report.

Maybe the best way for students to get a balanced, accurate and honest view of politics and news is to not just watch news programs or just fake news shows, but to keep a healthy mix of the two.

So, as Colbert would say, “Nation, get on that!”

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