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Medicinal Laughs: Could 'Daily Show' Sour Millennials On ACA?

Oct 30, 2013
Originally published on October 30, 2013 4:00 pm

Problems with the rollout of the Affordable Care Act have been all over the news — and the not-quite news. Comedy Central's The Daily Show With Jon Stewart has been one news-ish outlet that hasn't been too kind in its coverage.

NPR TV critic Eric Deggans spoke with All Things Considered host Audie Cornish about why negative coverage on The Daily Show might be worse for the Obama administration than negative coverage on the nightly news.


Interview Highlights

On how young people get their news from The Daily Show

I think this young group of millennials [are] the folks that the government really wants to take advantage of this program, and The Daily Show is sort of their barometer of when something is ridiculous in government.

And so the fact that The Daily Show — I loved a Daily Show segment, I think on Monday, where they showed the person who's pictured on [HealthCare.gov] as sort of hanging in despair. She had hung herself because things were so bad. So when you have stuff like that going on on The Daily Show, it might make people less likely to take the [Affordable Care Act] itself seriously.

On an ad run during The Daily Show by Republicans

This ad is sort of a satire of the Apple ads that we saw years ago. And it's interesting: As lame as the ad itself kind of is, it highlights the problems [with the Affordable Care Act] in the way that The Daily Show has also done. It resonates with the same sort of cultural take that we've seen from The Daily Show. So I think it could be effective.

On other lighthearted news shows on millennial-focused networks

As much as I love the The Daily Show and The Colbert Report — they do wonderful work — I'm afraid that young viewers will get the sense that the only way they can consume news is when it's entertaining, when it sings and dances or makes them laugh. And you want people to be able to focus in on news when it's substantive and when it's about something that's important in their lives. So that's the one concern I have.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The problems with the roll out of the Affordable Care Act have been all over the news and the not-quite news.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE DAILY SHOW WITH JON STEWART")

JON STEWART: Let's get one thing straight about this country: We will camp out all night to be the first people to buy a phone or see a movie about shirtless werewolves. But you got 10 minutes to get me this (bleep) health care. Do you understand what I'm talking about?

CORNISH: "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" has not been, well, kind when it comes to its coverage.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE DAILY SHOW WITH JON STEWART")

REBECCA JARVIS: Confusing error messages. Broken calculators.

STEWART: The (bleep) calculator doesn't work? The one thing that's been included in computers since 1972? You couldn't make that work? What, is the only thing that the calculator does is spell out the word boobs no matter what you plug into it? How does the calculator not work?

CORNISH: NPR's TV critic Eric Deggans is here to talk about why negative coverage on "The Daily Show" might be worse than negative coverage on the nightly news. Hey there, Eric.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: Hey. How's it going?

CORNISH: So, you're saying that "The Daily Show" has more influence over public perception of the Affordable Care Act than regular nightly news even though "The Daily Show" is comedy. Is this just because there are so many young people who get their news from "The Daily Show"?

DEGGANS: Yeah. I think this young group of millennials is the folks that the government really wants to take advantage of this program, and "The Daily Show" is sort of their barometer of when something is ridiculous in government. And so the fact that "The Daily Show" - I loved a "Daily Show" segment, I think, on Monday where they showed the person who's pictured on the website sort of hanging in despair. She had hung herself because things were so bad. So when you have stuff like that going on in "The Daily Show," it might make people less likely to take the program itself seriously.

CORNISH: And, of course, Republicans are trying to actually capitalize on this. They ran an ad during "The Daily Show" in a few markets just last night. Let's take a listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF A POLITICAL AD)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Hello, I'm the private sector.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: And I'm Obamacare.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Obamacare, what are you doing down there?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: I'm just out for a little maintenance.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Down for maintenance? I don't understand. I work all the time, 24/7. Customers depend on it.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Hey, look. Before you know it, we'll be just like the DMV.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Setting the bar pretty high there.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Oh, wait. Wait. I think I'm giving up. Up. Up. Up. Ooh. Ugh.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Down again. Can I get you a chair or something?

CORNISH: So, Eric, is this opponents of the law, but specifically Republicans, reaching out for the younger demographic that they need?

DEGGANS: It seems - it certainly seems that way. This ad is sort of a satire of the Apple ads that we saw years ago. And it's interesting, as lame as the ad itself kind of is, it highlights the problems in a way that "The Daily Show" has also done. It resonates with the same sort of cultural take that we've seen from "The Daily Show." So I think it could be effective.

CORNISH: And in terms of outreach, this demographic, they're not the only ones, right? We're seeing this shift in how media companies are trying to attract younger viewers. There's actually two brand-new cable networks focused just at them, Pivot and Fusion, and they both have lighthearted news shows. Is this the future of journalism?

DEGGANS: Well, in some ways, I hope not, because as much as I love "The Daily Show" and "The Colbert Report" - they do wonderful work - I'm afraid of that young viewers will get the sense that the only way they can consume news is when it's entertaining, when it sings and dances or makes them laugh. And you want people to be able to focus in on news when it's substantive and when it's about that's important in their lives. So that's the one concern I have.

CORNISH: That's NPR's TV critic, Eric Deggans. Eric, thank you.

DEGGANS: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.