Digby sent me to this very interesting study that shows exactly what I’ve known for a long time, The Irony of Satire: Political Ideology and the Motivation to See What You Want to See in The Colbert Report. For those who do not know it, The Colbert Report is more or less a parody of Bill O’Reilly’s The Factor. It is to right wing opinion shows what The Daily Show is to news shows. The whole gag is that Colbert is extremely conservative and stubbornly resistant to facts. He says that he thinks with his gut. He also coined the word “truthiness,” which means, “A quality characterizing a ‘truth’ that a person making an argument or assertion claims to know intuitively ‘from the gut’ or because it ‘feels right’ without regard to evidence, logic, intellectual examination, or facts.”
But this is not how everyone perceives the show. With a group of 332 participants, the researchers found that when conservatives watch the show, they thought that Colbert was something like a double agent:
What is especially interesting about this is that Colbert commonly says things on his show that would be considered totally unacceptable if they were taken straight. For example, he recently started the “Ching-Chong Ding-Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever.” If there were any question whatsoever that Colbert really believed that, I would not watch the show. And that’s but one example. So the fact that people watch him thinking it’s satire of satire is extremely troubling.
But the fact is that I’ve known this about his show. I’ve commented about it to friends. It bothers me that a sizable section of his studio audience seems not to get the joke. The joke they get is the outrageous guy just telling it like it is. It disturbs me because most politically active people can put a nice face on conservatism. Take Paul Ryan: he always claims that his policies that seem to be bad for the poor are actually good for them. And maybe he really thinks that. But the conservative voter is the guy who watches The Colbert Report and thinks that “Ching-Chong Ding-Dong” is a valid attack on Chinese Americans.