Where Humor and Persuasion Intersect: A Content Analysis of Late Night Political Comedy Hosts' Coverage of the 2016 Presidential Election

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Field, Chloe
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In what has become a highly mediated culture, society has experienced a merging of entertainment and news. This merger, coined "infotainment," has faced criticism by some who question its credibility. Others, however, have praised it for its unique approach. Regardless, audiences continue to engage with this genre, particularly gravitating towards late night political comedy shows like The Daily Show, The Late Show, and Last Week Tonight. The unique impact that these messages' comedic deliveries have on audiences has been previously studied, however the specific audience effects demonstrated hinge largely on the content of the messaging itself. Throughout an election season peppered with scandals from both major party candidates, this content analysis seeks to evaluate the specific comedic methods and language choices adopted by late night political comedy hosts covering such events. Through a six-week data collection period, scandal-related content of The Daily Show, The Late Show, and Last Week Tonight was evaluated to determine the extent to which the hosts discussed the candidates' scandals, the frames they utilized in doing so, and the differences in coverage between programs. Results of this analysis yielded a clear liberal bias displayed by each of the three hosts, who devoted significantly more coverage to Donald Trump's scandals than to Hillary Clinton’s. Further, not only did this content analysis reveal a quantitative discrepancy between coverage of the candidates, but qualitative differences, as well. Discussion of Donald Trump's scandals included solemn tones and incriminating commentary, while conversation of scandals surrounding Clinton seemed aimed toward exonerating her and shifting the blame to other parties. Further, each host served to frame the election negatively, expressing a general feeling of anxiety and lack of confidence in the results of the 2016 election.
Media, Political Science, Election, Politics