The results of the new Pew Survey on News Consumption (taken every two years and released this afternoon) suggest that viewers of the "fake news" programs The Daily Show and The Colbert Report are more knowledgeable about current events (as judged by three test questions) than watchers of "real" cable news shows hosted by Lou Dobbs, Bill O'Reilly and Larry King, among others -- as well as average consumers of NBC, ABC, Fox News, CNN, C-SPAN and daily newspapers.
The national average for answering the three questions was only 18%. But 34% of The Colbert Report fans got them right, with 30% of The Daily Show viewers doing so -- even though the two Comedy Central shows draw younger audiences which generally scored less well on the "test" than older viewers/readers.
The Pew Report observed: "The Colbert Report and The Daily Show are notable for having relatively well-informed audiences that are younger than the national average."
Topping the knowledge list were The New Yorker and The Atlantic (48%), NPR (44%), MSNBC's Hardball (43%), and Fox's Hannity & Colmes at 42%.
While consumers of most news outlets scored poorly on the test, a separate question revealed that a vast majority believe they follow national news closely. Yet, somehow, only 53% were able to correctly identify which party now controls Congress. In another finding: no surprise, Democrats were found to favor CNN and MSNBC while Republicans strongly dig Fox.
Respondents were asked to identify which party now controls Congress, who is the current U.S. secretary of state and name the new prime minister of Great Britain.
Coming in behind the two fake news show on the test were consumers of :
News magazines 30%
O'Reilly Factor 28%
Lou Dobbs Tonight 27%
Daily newspaper 22%
NBC News 21%
Larry King Live 19%
ABC News 19%
Fox News 19%
Personality magazines 13%
Religious radio 12%
CBS News 10%
National Enquirer 9%
Greg Mitchell's new book includes chapters on Stewart and Colbert. It is So Wrong for So Long: How the Press, the Pundits -- and the President -- Failed on Iraq. He is editor of Editor & Publisher.