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ANNENBERG CENTER FOR MEDIA STUDIES: Public Learned More About Campaign Finance Skulduggery From Watching Colbert Report Than By Watching Broadcast News Or Reading Newspapers

Photo by PETER YANG

DEADLINE HOLLYWOOD: The published study tested The Colbert Report against CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and broadcast nightly news — as well as talk radio and newspapers –  as sources of political information. The study, appropriately called Stephen Colbert’s Civics Lesson, was based on phone survey data from 1,232 adults 18 years or older who were interviewed between December 13-23, 2012. Watching The Colbert Report not only increased people’s perceptions that they knew more about political financing, but significantly increased their actual knowledge, and did so at a greater rate than other news sources, the study found. Reading daily newspapers, listening to talk radio, and watching Fox News Channel increased knowledge about super PACs and 501(c)(4)s — but “to a lesser degree,” the study concluded. Colbert’s show is being shuttered at the end of this calendar year, so he can take over for David Letterman at CBS when Letterman retires; Dave has said he will leave some time in 2015. Colbert, and CBS, have assured critics he will not take his Comedy Central character with him to CBS. Colbert did better than any actual news source at teaching, Hardy said, because he walked viewers through the process of creating a super PAC, with every episode a continuation of that story, and because he used humor and satire, which other news sources seldom use — or seldom use intentionally, at any rate. The continuing narrative in which Colbert became an “active participant” engaged viewers more than the traditional approach used by the news media. In fact, traditional news media got it wrong when it comes to trying to teach readers/viewers something. That’s because that “inverted pyramid” you learn about in J-school — you know:  the most important news comes first — is the same as “being told the punchline before the joke’,” the study concluded. MORE

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