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Fake News

posted by LIM College staff Staff Profiles Desktops & Documents lola.rephann My Documents website BLOGS Hubspot Blogs Short Takes Caroline ThompsonLate night TV may be crude and obnoxious, but it can also be funny enough for that to be excused. Those same qualities sometimes apply to talk shows, like Jay Leno’s, and to fake news programs like The Colbert Report and celebrity round-tables like the Chelsea Lately show.

Media watchdogs such as the Pew and Annenberg organizations report, however, that many college-age viewers rely on these shows as their main source of political news information. If the punch lines are harmless, there may still be a problem. The audience for these shows does not use enough other news sources to evaluate information that does not come with a laugh. 

There may not be that much at stake when the hosts do a stand-up routine about Lindsay Lohan or Britney Spears, tease politicians, or highlight ridiculous trends. Yet the shows do appear to have had serious consequences on how young people voted in the last election. The perception of Barack Obama and his family seems to have become more sympathetic after Stephen Colbert made fun of Republican commentators who said the future First Lady had a “silver spoon” upbringing. Colbert serenaded Michele Obama and quipped, “Why would you want to be First Lady? You’d never get any sleep because I understand the phone keeps ringing at 3 a.m." 

Maybe the best thing about these shows is that even though they have real influence as social satire, they also poke fun at themselves. Chelsea Handler often sarcastically proclaims, “What an amazing show this has been,”  with heavy stress on “amazing” that mocks the media’s habit of hype but that suggests that she knows that she is part of the game. Ads about her show call her “The sharpest tongue on TV,” but the show itself is part of the comedy.

If these shows do not provide the highest quality information about real events, they follow a long tradition. When radio was the king of media, comedy that incorporated news events was part of the shows.  Early TV variety-shows took digs at politicians in the 1950s, although not with the same raunchiness as shows do today.  Does comedy demean the importance of news, or is it a healthy and interactive way to capture the interest of the young that makes them feel more connected to the discussion? Whatever else they are, these shows can be hilarious, and their popularity is not falling.  Could this be another golden age for political comedy? 

--Caroline Thompson

Further Reading:

Howley, K., “Fake News and High-Caliber Journalism” [Website of DePauw University] Retrieved July 24, 2009.

The University of Southern California Annenberg Center on Media Myths

Red Tractor: an online satire-news site


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