The Nation recently devoted a special issue to the topic of entertainment and politics. The special issue featured a chart that lists (PDF) all of the media properties of the major media empires (Disney, News Corporation, Viacom, Time Warner, and CBS). It’s an eye-opening chart in terms of illustrating where and how most Americans get their news. As the authors point out, the lnadscape has changed considerably since they produced their original chart ten years ago in part due to the rise of new media, but because television remains the primary source of news for most Americans, this chart remains an important resource.
I’ve only had time to skim a few of the articles in the entertainment issue, but Rebecca MacKinnon’s ” The Self-Expression Sector” is a useful analysis of the popularization of self-expression tools such as blogs and podcasts, and Robert McChesney continues to raise important points about media deregulation, while Mark Crispin Miller and Amy Goodman describe the continued threats to real reporting presented by corporations primarily interested in the bottom line. While Markos (Daily Kos) Moulitsas Zuniga and Robert Greenwald are slightly more optimistic, the overall picture is rather dire (with good reason).
For this reason, I find Richard Morin’s Washington Post column to be deeply misguided. Morin argues that “Jon Stewart and his hit Comedy Central cable show may be poisoning democracy,” pointing to a study that viewers who watched The Daily Show were more likely to view both 2004 Presdiential candidates negatively than people who watched the CBS Evening News. He goes on to cite the argument that the negative perceptions of the candidates “could have participation implications by keeping more youth from the polls.” While I think it’s important to note that watching TDS or CBS does not take place in isolation (which I believe deeply complicates the result of this study), isn’t it also important to speculate about why these negative perceptions persist and what it says about the political process itself. It’s not Stewart that’s poisoning democracy. Instead, his appeal–not to mention Stephen Colbert’s–grows out of the fact that so many of us feel alienated from a democratic process that is already deeply flawed.