Skip to content
Guest Thinkers

Jon Stewart Tells Larry King that Rally to Restore Sanity Won’t Be Political…But Expert Says Impacts Will Be

Last night on CNN, Jon Stewart told Larry King that the Rally to Restore Sanity “is in fact not a political rally,” and instead will be an extension of the content of his program.  When the news media started covering rallies as the new thing, said Stewart, the Daily Show decided that the format was perfect “to do their schtick.”

Even though news organizations such as NPR have banned their employees from attending the event, Stewart says that the rally is simply for the 75-85% of Americans who are “reasonable people.”  The rally, says Stewart, is a visceral reaction of a people fed up with a reflection of themselves shown as a divided people.  You can watch Stewart’s interview below.

Stewart-Colbert Event a Gateway to Political Activism

Last month I posted a series of interviews with my colleague Lauren Feldman, a leading expert on the influence of political entertainment and a professor in the School of Communication at American University.  This week, Feldman spoke with Maggie Barrett, staff writer with AU’s Office of Media Relations. 

Feldman tells Barrett that the rally may in fact serve to mobilize voters who otherwise don’t pay close attention to politics or to the pending Midterm election.  Much of this influence won’t occur directly among the attendees to the event but be mediated by way of the TV audience tuning in live to the Rally and to those who catch coverage of the event as it transcends both hard news and entertainment news audiences. 

Below is the news feature by Barrett summarizing Feldman’s analysis of the event.

Jon Stewart’s “Rally to Restore Sanity” and Stephen Colbert’s “March to Keep Fear Alive” may seem all satire and silliness, but Lauren Feldman, assistant professor of communication at American University, says the event stands to make a serious impact by providing a gateway to greater political engagement. “The appeal of Stewart and Colbert will draw people to the National Mall who might not otherwise turn out at a political rally or participate in politics in traditional ways,” said Feldman, whose research includes the political impact of late-night comedy.

“Ultimately, Stewart and Colbert are comedians, and because they are billing the event as entertainment and not as a call to action, the rally could even be an attraction for people who don’t typically follow politics closely.”  

Feldman’s 2008 study on the topic in the journal Political Communication found that people who watched the Tonight Show with Jay Leno or Late Night with David Letterman during the 2004 presidential primaries were more likely pay attention to campaign coverage on traditional network and cable news.  Feldman says the Stewart-Colbert event has the potential to reach people far beyond those flocking to Washington, D.C., October 30. Satellite events in cities across the country, including Chicago and Seattle, and buzz in social and mainstream media will likely lead to a “snowball” effect, drawing even more people into the process than the D.C. event would on its own.

“Media coverage of the event, which likely will be widespread across entertainment-oriented as well as traditional news outlets, will help make the midterm elections more top-of-mind to citizens who may be on the fence about whether they’ll vote on Election Day,” Feldman said.

Aside from its broader appeal to citizens who are traditionally less-active in politics, the event may especially stand to appeal to people who currently consider themselves the politically disgruntled: moderates. “The event is a way to remind people who are not necessarily at the extreme ends of the political spectrum that they still have a voice in politics,” Feldman pointed out. “The rally is a participatory outlet for people who are fed up with partisan politics; with the anger on both sides of the political aisle; with the gridlock in Washington; and with the mainstream media’s complicity in letting the far right and far left dominate the political conversation.”

Satire May Energize Electorate

Two years after young people overwhelmingly voted for Barack Obama, predictions are that they will not be turning out for the 2010 midterm elections. The Democratic Party is spending $50 million to get young voters and minorities back to the polls and President Obama has hosted numerous events to engage young voters, including a forum on MTV.   

Smarter faster: the Big Think newsletter
Subscribe for counterintuitive, surprising, and impactful stories delivered to your inbox every Thursday

“One of the reasons young people are relatively uninterested in the midterm elections is their frustration with partisan politics, as well as their disappointment given what they perceive to be President Obama’s failure to deliver on the ‘change’ he promised in 2008,” Feldman explained.   

Some Democratic politicians reportedly are concerned that the event could interfere with the final push to get Democratic voters to the polls, both by drawing people who might otherwise be out canvassing in their local communities and by pulling media coverage away from President Obama and other high profile Democrats the weekend before November 2. But a laugh at the expense of politicians, whether Democrats, Republicans, Tea Partiers, or other independents, could be just the jolt voters need, says Feldman—especially young people, who make up the majority of Stewart’s and Colbert’s audiences.  

“It’s important to remember that while Stewart and Colbert are entertainers, they entertain about politics,” Feldman said. “The event and the message behind it offer an alternative to cynicism and disengagement, and will hopefully help remind people why it is critical to vote.” 

See also:

Is America a Joke? Researcher Examines The DailyShow‘s Impact on Political Culture

Distraction or Engagement? Researcher On What Viewers Learn from The DailyShow

The DailyShow: The Best Place for Engaging Wider Audiences on Science?

Lessons for Science? AU Colleague Studies Impact of Late Night Comedy on Viewers’ Engagement with Politics

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Nullam id tincidunt mi. Morbi malesuada nulla sit amet est hendrerit tincidunt. Etiam viverra, nisl id volutpat eleifend, est augue sodales orci, […]

Up Next