A couple of months ago, Conservative Review TV released an interview between Allie Beth Stuckey and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. During the interview, the New York representative seemed to say that she knows nothing about politics, and that her qualification for being in government was that 9/11 happened while she was growing up. The interview racked up over 1,000,000 views on Facebook within the first day of it being posted.
The next day, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez personally called out not just Allie Beth Stuckey, and not just CRTV, but the entire Republican party for being “so scared of me that they’re faking videos and presenting them as real on Facebook because they can’t deal with reality anymore.”
Of course, the entire interview was faked. CRTV used clips of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s interview with Margaret Hoover on her PBS show, “Firing Line,” and edited in clips of Stuckey asking questions. However, many conservatives believed the video was a real interview—until CRTV added a disclaimer stating the video was satirical.
Satire has become such an important part of democracy; it affects how the general population views their representatives. According to a 2006 study by Jody Baumgartner and Jonathan Morris, when exposed to jokes about John Kerry and George Bush, “Viewers exhibit more cynicism toward the electoral system and the news media at large.” This is largely because most political comedy is directed toward a given candidate’s personality, rather than their actual policy, according to a 2004 study. While these jokes may appear to just be jokes, studies show that a message presented with humor is both more memorable and more persuasive.
Furthermore, many people believe satire is better at portraying the news than regular, cable news is. A 2014 article from Techdirt.com says as much: “A study earlier this year out of the University of Pennsylvania suggested that Stephen Colbert explained campaign financing more effectively than most beat reporters.”
In addition to this, some studies also suggest that satirical news “affects how impactful people believe their voice is within the scope of politics.” Among these is a study by Silvia Knobloch-Westerwick and Simon M. Lavis, in which participants who selected satirical news clips lost faith in the idea that their voice means anything. Meanwhile, picking partisan news clips “induced attitude reinforcement according to message stance.”
Political satire has shown that it can be important to resisting oppression under authoritarian governments, but the same satire (although maybe not the exact same form) is just as, if not more, important in a democratic society. While ‘soft news’ has long been available, the past two decades have seen an immense growth in popularity of satirical news programs, like Last Week Tonight and The Late Show.
The popularity that soft news garners from its humorous presentation of the news is one of the ways satirical programs are able to present an angle of certain stories that hard news wouldn’t be able to cover. For example, in 1998, during President Clinton and Monica Lewinsky’s alleged sexual affair was in the news, President Clinton ordered a series of strikes on supposed terrorist outposts in the Sudan and Afghanistan. While cable news focused on the political implications and military tactics of the missile strikes, soft news “focused almost exclusively on the uncanny parallels between real-world events and what was until then a relatively obscure movie, called ‘Wag the Dog’.” In “Wag the Dog,” a fictional president hires a film producer to fabricate a war in order to cover up and draw attention away from a sex scandal. According to a 2019 study from Matthew Baum, the week following the strikes saw 36 out of 45 total stories from soft news address the theme of “Wag the Dog,” in contrast to just 11 out of 69 hard news stories even mentioning “Wag the Dog” or “Monica Lewinsky.” In opinion polls following the attacks, “40% of respondents – including 25% of self-described Democrats – indicated that they believed distracting the nation was one of the considerations motivating President Clinton.”
Soft news allowed people to look at this story from a different angle, one hard news wouldn’t have been able to cover.
When done well, political satire is one of, if not the, most important mechanics of a functioning democracy. Thanks to political satire, there isn’t always one angle to a story, politics is understandable, and the democratic process isn’t dominated by “the educated.”
And—we can all get a good laugh at the end of the day.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.