Jon Stewart, King of the Molehill

That does it. I’m giving up on America.

The impetus (this time) seems innocuous enough — a “CNN article”: (hat tip to David Groen) that reports (unsurprisingly) that viewers of “The Daily Show” scored better on a political quiz than viewers of “The Tonight Show” or “Late Night”. Where it gets appalling is in the “quiz” that was offered as part of a larger survey, and in the results. The quiz only consists of six multiple-choice questions; on five of them the choices are “Bush” and “Kerry.” Here it is:

1. Who favors allowing workers to invest some of their Social Security contributions in the stock market?
2. Who urged Congress to extend the federal law banning assault weapons?
3. John Kerry says that he would eliminate the Bush tax cuts on those making how much money?

* Over $50,000 a year
* Over $100,000 a year
* Over $200,000 a year
* Over $500,000 a year

4. Who is a former prosecutor?
5. Who favors making the recent tax cuts permanent?
6. Who wants to make it easier for labor unions to organize?

How is it possible to get any of these questions _wrong_? Four of them require only the most elementary knowledge about party positions. One requires only basic biographical information about the candidates. The hardest question of them all features a number that’s been used widely in Kerry’s speeches and campaign material.

So it’s a stupid quiz, so what? The _results_ are so what. At the end of the “Take the Quiz Online!” feature on CNN’s website, they cheerfully inform you how well the actual survey-takers did. Here are the averages:

“The Daily Show” with Jon Stewart viewers – 3.59 correct
“The Tonight Show” with Jay Leno viewers – 2.95 correct
“Late Show” with David Letterman viewers – 2.91 correct
No late-night comedy viewing – 2.62 correct

So on average, most people got less than half the answers correct. That’s appalling. The good news is that it’s appalling and also somewhat suspect — the article reports on some other numbers:

Forty-nine percent of Leno and Letterman viewers got a perfect score on the quiz. But 60 percent of “Daily Show” viewers answered all six questions correctly. Just 42 percent of those who read a newspaper four days a week aced the test. Only 40 percent of those who watch network news four days a week got every answer right.

If nearly half the L&L watchers got all the answers right, but the average for those people was to get a little less than half the answers right, wouldn’t that mean that the other half of those viewers would have had to — almost universally — get all the answers _wrong_? But it doesn’t matter — if even if the figures for averages are completely bogus, and only the percentages of acers are accurate, they results still suck royally, and suggest a woefully uninformed populace.

The other possibility is that, just as the quiz questions were stupid, the entire survey is critically flawed in some way that renders all the results meaningless. Here hopin’.

UPDATE: In the comments, Nevin notes that the article has been corrected — 60% of Daily Show viewers didn’t get a perfect score, but rather, the average score was 60%. In other words, the inconsistency has been resolved in the direction of even _more_ ignorance on the part of viewers.