Audiences of Comedy Central’s “Daily Show” and “Colbert Report” had the best knowledge of current events, while Fox News viewers had no more knowledge than the average American, according to a Pew Research Center poll released Sunday.
The survey found that the emergence of 24-hour cable news and the Internet since the late 1980s has had little impact on how much Americans know about national and international affairs. About 69 percent of a sample 1,502 adults interviewed during the first two weeks of February were able to come up with Dick Cheney when asked to recall the name of the vice president. That is fewer than 74 percent who knew Dan Quayle was VP when asked the question in 1989.
Along with education, income and political interest, researchers found where people get their news had a significant impact on how much they know. Fifty-four percent of those ranked with high knowledge of current events said they watched “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart” and “The Colbert Report” with Stephen Colbert, the same percentage as readers of major newspaper Web sites and one point ahead of “News Hour with Jim Lehrer” on PBS.
That compared to 35 percent in the high-knowledge category that get their news from Fox and/or their local TV news and 34 percent who watch network morning shows.
Researchers said the fact that a news source’s audience is very knowledgeable doesn’t necessarily mean people learn all they know from that source. News-hungry Americans are regular audiences of about seven separate news sources, compared to 4.6 for the general public. Well-educated Americans who are interested in politics also tend to draw from diverse viewpoints.
Other programs with a high percentage of very knowledgeable viewers and listeners included “The O’Reilly Factor” on Fox News (51 percent) and Rush Limbaugh’s radio show (50 percent). Researchers concluded those with a high interest in news might tend to remember more of it, regardless of the source where they heard it first.
Major newspaper Web sites scored the highest percentage of college graduates (43 percent) among their audience and Fox News the lowest (22 percent.) Fox’s audience share is nearly triple of Comedy Central when it comes to gathering news, however. Forty-three percent said they regularly watch Fox News Channel, compared to 16 percent who tune in to “The Daily Show/Colbert Report.”
Seventy-one percent said they regularly watch their local TV news, and 54 percent read their local daily newspaper. Forty-six percent watch network evening news, and 34 percent view network morning shows.
At the bottom of the list, 12 percent regularly read a major newspaper Web site, 11 percent view an online news discussion blog and 8 percent listen to Rush Limbaugh.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.