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Video of Susan Jacoby on The Colbert Report

The Center for Inquiry’s Susan Jacoby, author of the NYTimes bestseller The Age of American Unreason, appeared last night on The Colbert Report.

As Colbert remarked, he prefers emotion over reason and when Jacoby noted that few Americans can correctly identify the nature of DNA, Colbert answered: “A fraud perpetuated by science in order to make us not believe in God!” The segment is classic satire.

But Jacoby’s appearance on Colbert does prompt the serious question: to what degree do shows such as the Daily Show and The Colbert Report contribute to the age of unreason, with younger viewers displacing traditional news consumption with regular viewing of late night satirical comedy? In other words, can young audiences have their satire and their knowledge too?

It’s a favorite topic for students in my Political Communication seminar. As it turns out, researchers are divided on the issue. Some note that audiences for the Daily Show are actually just as informed as other regular news consumers (see Pew poll results below) while other research shows that in contrast to broadcast television, Daily Show viewing breeds cynicism among younger viewers. In a special section of a recent issue of Critical Studies in Media Communication, leading scholars debated the topic.


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