The Irony of Reporting

A study I co-authored with two of my graduate school colleagues, Heather LaMarre and Kristen Landreville, was recently published in the International Journal of Press/Politics. It has garnered an amazing amount of press coverage and it’s been viral around the net (we topped!). In short, our study finds that viewers process Stephen Colbert’s deadpan satire in a way that is consistent with their own worldview. That is, liberals see Colbert using satire to poke fun at conservative’s expense while conservatives see Colbert as using hyporbole to make fun of liberals. We also found that people are more likely to think that Colbert (the person, not the character) subscribes to their ideology.

I originally hoped we might have a shot at getting on the Colbert Report, since the man loves to talk about himself. I figured they could use the angle that we found everyone thinks Colbert is like them, because he is America. But, after the story was picked up by the Huffington Post, the diffusion and reception through media and the blogosphere has become something very different than I expected (or intended).

Huffington Post’s story was titled “Colbert Study: Conservatives Don’t Know He’s Joking.” This is provocative, but quite contrary to the message of our paper. We found that both conservatives and liberals see Colbert’s joke; they just interpret the target of the joke differently. I’m honestly surprised at the irony of the polarized responses people have given to the study. I’ve read in several online forums and blogs that, like the title of the Huffington story suggests, our results show [insert “others”] are stupid for not getting “the joke.”  It’s ironic because people’s interpretations of our study confirm our results: people tend to process ambiguous information in a way that it is consistent with their own worldview (primarily liberal people, since the story has diffused mainly through the liberal blogosphere) . So, to liberals we may have found found “conservatives don’t get it,” but to conservatives we might have found liberal’s can’t see Colbert is “a double-agent, pretending to pretend to be a conservative, to pull one over Hollywood.” (To their credit, several journalists have given the study coverage that demonstrates they read more than the abstract.)

Chicago Tribune
Globe & Mail
The Guardian
Crooks & Liars
Countdown with Keith Olbermann:

Posted on May 2, 2009, in Blog. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a Comment.

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