Incivility in Politics: Jon Stewart and Pizza

Let’s address this first: I love Jon Stewart. I think he is a borderline genius and just damn funny.

I don’t get to watch as much as I would like, but occasionally I go on a Hulu binge.

When I came across this clip this past week, I couldn’t stop laughing.

It is pure gold.  Go ahead, watch it.  I’ll wait………

See?  Pure gold!

However, between my fits of laughter, I remembered a ‘serious’ scientific study performed on the incivility in political media that I read a short time ago.

Incivility in Politics

From Incivility to Outrage: Political Discourse in Blogs, Talk Radio, and Cable News 

It is an interesting study looking at Blogs, Talk Radio, Newspapers, and Cable News and their use of outrage and incivility.   The researchers selected three examples from each media and then coded 10 weeks of content looking for outrage and incivility.

Interestingly, Jon Stewart was not one of the content providers chosen for study’s review.

The coders identified 13 different manifestations of outrage language and behavior.

They are coded in the following categories:

Table 3

(pg 28)

Insulting language
Name calling
Emotional display
Emotional language
Verbal fighting/Sparring
Character assassination
Misrepresentative exaggeration
Mockery/Sarcasm
Conflagration
Ideologically extremizing language
Slippery slope
Belittling
Use of obscene language

Now, I am pretty sure Jon Stewart would hit all just about every one of these researcher’s categories in a half hour show.  In fact, he just about hits every one of them in the above segment alone.

However, the skeptic in me must question the research.

Here are the content providers they used to garner their conclusions and how they viewed their political perspective:

Media / Perspective

TV

1. The Glenn Beck Show / Conservative
2. Countdown with Keith Olbermann / Liberal
3. Hannity / Conservative

Radio

1. Mark Levin / Conservative
2. Michael Savage / Conservative
3. Rush Limbaugh / Conservative

Blog

1. Moonbattery / Conservative
2. Orcinus / Liberal
3. Wonkette / Liberal

Column

1. Cal Thomas / Conservative
2. Charles Krauthammer / Conservative
3. Leonard Pitts / Liberal

Bottom line, the research’s conclusions will only be as good as the input and the coding.   And at both input points, it is fairly subjective.

However, it did not stop the researchers from stating a strong conclusion!  And guess what?

From this study’s sample and coding decisions, the researchers arrive at the following conclusion:

When it comes to inflammatory media shenanigans, the right insists the left is worse, and the left insists the right is worse. Claiming persecution by the other side, and detailing how inaccurate and vindictive they are, is standard fare. Table 2 demonstrated that extensive out- rage language and behavior come from both the left and the right; is one side really worse than the other? In a word, yes. Our data indicate that the right uses decidedly more outrage speech than the left. Taken as a whole, liberal content is quite nasty in character, following the outrage model with emotional, dramatic, and judgment-laden speech. Conservatives, however, are even nastier. (emphasis added)

In fairness, the researchers in their final paragraphs acknowledged the weakness of their research:

We recognize that this research raises as many questions as it answers…..

Homework

1. Read the Study  From Incivility to Outrage: Political Discourse in Blogs, Talk Radio, and Cable News 
2. Re-watch the Jon Stewart clip.  Laugh because it’s funny.
3. Ask yourself, if Jon Stewart were included in the sample, could you possibly reach the same conclusion?

Conclusion

In closing, this serves as a reminder that just because some “science” is published in a journal, doesn’t mean it is law.

In fact, the scientific method demands we question research.

This is the perfect example of why we must use our brains, and it has the added benefit of being funny!

About Alex Patton