The educational value of "fake" news programs might not be as important as once thought, says a recent study conducted by researchers at Ohio State University's School of Communication.

Last week on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Comedy Central's most colorful host discussed the near-collapse of financial giant Merrill Lynch, which Bank of America rescued Sept. 15 for $50 billion.

Amid close-up footage showing the investment company's trademark bull running through a field, Stewart said calmly that the buyout is "making Merrill Lynch's famous mascot so sad he is now refusing to comb his genitals."

No doubt Stewart, Samantha Bee and Rob Riggle are really, really funny.

But the educational value of "fake" news programs might not be as important as once thought, says a recent study conducted by researchers at Ohio State University's School of Communication.

In the experiment, published earlier this year in the Journal of Communication, 85 viewers from a Midwestern city watched segments about the nomination of Supreme Court Justice John Roberts from either The Daily Show or a news program broadcast by NBC or CNN. Participants were asked to recall facts and answers questions about Roberts and the selection procedure.

Those who watched traditional programs fared better in both areas.

"Actually, this is a unique study," said Young Mie Kim, an OSU assistant professor who co-authored the study. "We had an experimental approach. Most studies [of comedic news shows] have employed a survey method, which has always had problems with causal relationships."

The Daily Show and fellow lampoons like The Colbert Report might help voters learn tidbits about a candidate's personal background - crucial fodder for jokes - but little about issues, stances or political procedures. That's bad news for the 48 percent of adults and 60 percent of young voters who said they used "fake" news shows as a campaign resource during the 2004 election.

Kim added that much has to do with approach: Those tuning to CNN do so to learn, while fans of late-night spoofs more often are looking to be entertained or update their impressions about a candidate.

"If you just watch the fake news shows and don't watch traditional news shows or read newspapers, you're missing out on a lot of political information," she added.

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For someone who uses words like "fixin'" when discussing the pending collapse of U.S. financial markets, Gov. Sarah Palin has come up with some really wacky names for her kids. (Trig? Track?) Thanks to the Sarah Palin Baby Name Generator, you can find out what she might have named you. Example: John Ross = Rink Rebate Palin. Not bad.

Got a question or comment about this year's election? Want to share your thoughts on a pressing issue? E-mail jross@columbusalive.com.