Satirical news shows are often the subject of criticism by news enthusiasts for their false representation of current events. What those critics fail to realize is that satirical news shows can actually be more helpful than traditional media.
Shows like “The Daily Show” create comedic commentary on specific news stories, sometimes in accordance to certain political views. Since the creation of “The Daily Show” in 1996, many other comedy news programs have been created, especially in today’s political climate.
Part of the controversy with satirical news shows lies in the simple question as to whether or not they actually have the same informative effects as standard news channels. Newer studies, however, have shown that satire has a positive effect when combined with news.
Assistant professor of communication at the University of Delaware Dannagal Young published an article titled, “Lighten Up: How satire will make American politics relevant again,” in the Columbia Journalism Review, which analyzes positive effects of news satire.
“Fans of political satire consistently exhibit exceptionally healthy democratic characteristics compared to non-viewers,” Young writes in his article. “People who watch Stewart and Colbert participate in politics more; they vote more; they discuss politics with friends and family more … they have more confidence in their ability to understand and participate in political life.”
Studies have also shown that political satire also enhances knowledge of the news and allows viewers to look more into the topics covered, which overall increases viewers’ interest in current events, according to Young.
It is important to keep in mind, however, comedy and news can be combined and understood effectively only if the viewer is aware of the limitations that “The Daily Show” and shows similar to it.
Satirical news shows cannot be the only forum in which viewers obtain news information. The viewer has to be aware of the context surrounding the performance to fully appreciate the show’s content and the current events it covers.
Another problem critics have with these shows is that they believe these programs cause an increase in distrust of the government amongst viewers, according to Young. At least some distrust in government, however, is healthy. It is vital to be skeptical of the government’s actions and hold it accountable when necessary.
Additionally, many scholars clarify that “low political trust combined with high knowledge and efficacy likely constitutes a desirable democratic concoction,” Young writes. This means that the combination of effects created by political satire can make for a smarter democratic individual.
“The Daily Show” had once labeled itself as “America’s most trusted source of fake news,” but has since dropped the label because of President Donald Trump’s proliferation of the phrase, “fake news,” according to Dawn Herrera Helphand at lithub.com.
The term “fake news” stems from Trump’s belief in biased news sources, which exist from whatever side of the political spectrum someone obtains news. But these comedy news shows are upfront with how biased they are. Such honesty makes these programs more trustworthy because they are not branding themselves falsely as objective outlets, as many traditional news organization do.
Furthermore, “The Daily Show” is a way to find solace in depressing news. Current commentator for the “The Daily Show” Trevor Noah has set aside moments during the beginning of his show to solemnly discuss tragic events in the media, including the school shooting in Parkland, Florida. These segments are usually heartfelt and personal, and a better way to reach audiences than news commentators on CNN or Fox News venting about gun control.
News satire breaks away from traditional, cold hard reporting and reaches audiences on an emotional level. This leaves viewers with a desire to learn more about news, rather than simply turning the television off in annoyance.