For years, loyal viewers of The Colbert Report have felt confident in that show’s superiority to traditional, boring news shows that aren’t hosted by ironic characters that don’t really mean anything they say. Now, though, thanks to a study conducted by the Annenberg Public Policy Center, we can back up that superiority with some actual data.
This comes via Deadline, which reports that a team of researchers—who dubbed their study “Stephen Colbert’s Civics Lesson”—interviewed 1,232 adults over the age of 18 about their news-watching habits, as well as their understanding of super PACs and 501(c)(4)s. Report viewers will recall that, in the lead-up to the presidential election in 2012, Colbert set up his own super PAC as an object lesson to illustrate how screwed-up campaign finance is. With his super PAC, “Americans For A Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow,” Colbert was able to collect unlimited anonymous corporate donations that he could, with the right paperwork, use to do effectively anything he wanted. Including, say, funding a campaign ad that literally called Mitt Romney a serial killer.
Colbert’s point was to show that if a TV character could pull this off with relative ease, then there’s nothing stopping someone with an actual political agenda from secretly driving a campaign. Apparently that message actually clicked for some people, since the Annenberg Public Policy Center’s study concluded that watching Colbert’s extended step-by-step breakdown of how super PACs are formed—more so than similar coverage by CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC—actually helped TV viewers to better understand how campaign financing really works. Bruce W. Hardy, the study’s lead author, explained that the “continuing narrative” of following Colbert as he formed his super PAC, along with his use of humor along the way, helped keep the audience more engaged than it otherwise would be with more traditional news sources.
However, before anyone takes this as an overall win for Comedy Central and another nail in the coffin of non-joke-based journalism, Deadline also points out that the Annenberg Public Policy Center actually conducted a similar study in 2008 that looked at The Daily Show’s coverage of the Supreme Court nomination process. That time, Jon Stewart’s show was found to be “less effective” than other news sources. Score one for The Colbert Nation, and now let’s all ignore the fact that it’s apparently going to be a lot harder to understand the news next year.