The Impact of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report on Public Attentiveness to Science and the Environment
Prior research on the political effects of late-night comedy programs has demonstrated that by piggy-backing political content on entertainment fare, such programs provide a “gateway” to increased audience attention to news and public affairs, particularly among less politically engaged audiences. Given the heightened coverage of science and environmental topics on Comedy Central’s satirical news programs The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, this paper considers whether a similar process could be at work relative to public attention to science and the environment. An analysis of nationally representative survey data finds that audience exposure to The Daily Show and The Colbert Report goes hand-in-hand with attention paid to science and environmental issues, specifically global warming. Moreover, the relationship between satirical news use and attentiveness is most pronounced among those with the least amount of formal education, who might otherwise lack the resources and motivation to pay attention to scientific and environmental issues. In this way, satirical news is an attention equalizer, reducing traditional gaps in attentiveness between those with low and high levels of education.