November 1, 2010

Press Release
November 1, 2010
Contact: Donald Rieck


Jon Stewart and David Letterman tend to target Republicans and conservatives with their humor while Jay Leno and Jimmy Fallon more often target Democrats and liberals, according to a new study by the Center for Media and Public Affairs. The study also found that Stewart was distinguished by his many Glenn Beck jokes, Leno by his Al Gore jokes, and Letterman by his jokes about New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

According to CMPA President Dr Robert Lichter, “Just as conservatives get their political news from Fox and liberals from MSNBC, conservatives are getting their political humor from NBC and liberals from Comedy Central. Noting Stewart’s October 30 Washington DC “Rally to Restore Sanity,” Dr. Lichter added, “Jon Stewart’s approach to Glenn Beck is to beat him and then join him.”

For the period from January 1 to Labor Day (Sept 6) 2010, CMPA analyzed all jokes about public figures by John Stewart (“Daily Show”), Jay Leno (“Tonight Show”), Jimmy Fallon (“Latenight”), and David Letterman (“Late Show”) in the monologues and opening segments of their shows prior to their interviews with guests. Then we selected out the 1625 jokes directed at political partisans, including Democrats and Republicans as well as liberal and conservative commentators, such as Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Rachel Maddow, and Keith Olbermann.


Jon Stewart and David Letterman both aimed three out of five partisan jokes at Republicans and conservatives, while Jay Leno and Jimmy Fallon aimed at least two out of three jokes at Democrats and liberals. Specifically, Stewart aimed 59% and Letterman 58% of their jokes at GOP/conservatives, while Jay Leno aimed 67% at Dem/liberal targets, and Fallon devoted 78% of his jokes toward Dem/liberals. (Fallon told fewer partisan jokes than the others.)

These differences are all the more notable because President Obama was the leading target of all four comedians. (As the nation’s newsmaker-in-chief, the President of the United States is usually the target of more jokes than any other individual.) The top five partisan targets for each:

Jon Stewart: 1. Barack Obama (72 jokes); 2. Glenn Beck (44); 3. Sarah Palin (35); 4. John McCain (29); 5. Michael Steele (28).

David Letterman: 1. Barack Obama (92 jokes); 2. George W. Bush (72); 3. Sarah Palin (58); 4. Scott Brown (38); 5. Michael Bloomberg (37).

Jay Leno: 1. Barack Obama (68 jokes); 2. Al Gore (29); 3. Joe Biden (27); 4T. Sarah Palin (24); 4T. George W. Bush (24).

Jimmy Fallon: 1. Barack Obama (77 jokes); 2. Joe Biden (27); 3. Sarah Palin (19); 4. Eric Massa (14); 5. Bill Clinton (12).

For all four comedians’ combined totals, the top ten partisan political targets were:

  1. Barack Obama – 309
  2. Sarah Palin – 137
  3. George W. Bush – 132
  4. Joe Biden – 94
  5. John McCain – 71
  6. Eric Massa – 52
  7. Glenn Beck – 50
  8. Scott Brown – 49
  9. Al Gore – 47
  10. Dick Cheney – 42

Sample Jokes:

Glenn Beck and his magic erasable truth board.

This is a guy who uses more swastika props and video of the Nuremberg rallies than the History Channel. [Glenn Beck]

Damn you, President [George W.] Bush, I can’t even comically debase you. It’s not fair.
The Kennedy legacy goes down to a naked guy who owns a truck. [Scott Brown]

The economy is so bad Al Gore had to give himself a massage.

This Gore divorce could prove to be expensive. Al Gore has begun to talk of saving only half of the planet.
Bill Clinton [said] his only involvement in Chelsea’s wedding is paying the bill. Since he’s a Democrat he doesn’t actually pay the bill himself, he leaves it for future generations of Americans.

Iranian President Ahmedinejad is in town. So for one day Mayor Bloomberg is not the shortest dictator in New York.

George W. Bush is writing a book…It’s all part of his war on literacy.

Sarah Palin made her debut as a Fox News analyst. They finally found a job that she’s not under-qualified for.

The Center for Media and Public Affairs is a non-profit, non-partisan research organization which is affiliated with George Mason University, where CMPA President Dr. Robert Lichter also serves as Professor of Communication. CMPA has monitored political news coverage and political jokes on television talk shows since 1988.

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