Comic 'news' a force in '08 campaign
How the media coverage has shaped this presidential election cycle.
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But there are indications that the SNL debate satire may have at least played a role in amplifying the perception of media bias.Skip to next paragraph
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A poll released Thursday by the Pew Research Center found that 58 percent of respondents felt the media coverage of Obama was fair, 28 percent felt that it was too easy, and 8 percent felt that media coverage was too tough. In comparison, 58 percent of people reported the coverage of Senator Clinton was fair, 19 percent said it was too easy, and 18 percent said it was too tough.
"So a small portion of the public judged that they'd been too tough on her and too easy on him," says Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center. "But the prevailing view of most people is: pretty much fair."
This isn't the first time an SNL skit helped amplify perceptions of a candidate or campaign. In 2000, SNL satirized Al Gore in his debate performance as pompous and boring to devastating effect.
Mr. Kohut says the skit can be viewed as one of the turning points in that presidential campaign. "This is not unprecedented. What happens is that these comedy shows can capture a sense of the candidates and the political scene in a way that's very accessible and connects with them on a humorous level and makes a point," he says.
The PEJ's Jurkowitz coined a new term to describe SNL's recent political parody: advocacy infotainment. "It was humorous, it was funny, and it was in keeping with everything they do, but in some ways it was a form of advocacy infotainment," says Jurkowitz.
Now that digital broadband has expanded to 70 percent of American households, the impact of advocacy infotainment is growing. "The impact of these moments is beyond the numbers of people that see them because they're constantly accessible to 70 percent of the population," says Kohut.
And politicians, like Clinton, use them in their campaigns. Indeed, during the Democratic debate Feb. 26, the New York senator referenced the SNL skit that parodied the way the media treated Obama. She was booed for doing it.
"But the media covering her comments and the re-airing of the skit on all of the national networks and all of the cable news [outlets] did help her and call attention to potential media bias," says Jennifer Lawless, a political scientist at Brown University in Providence, R.I.
Some experts also note that the perceptions of media bias are often a product of the ideological bent of the person who perceives it. "Partisans on both sides can view the very same thing and view it as biased against themselves," says Diana Mutz, a professor of political science and communications at the University of Pennsylvania. "So it's hard to prove evidence of bias one way or another, but in terms of political psychology, it is very effective to point to the media."