Over lunch, at the bar and over the cubicle wall

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Jon Stewart: The next Oprah?
It’s official: Jon Stewart is funny, like in a New Yorker kind of way. His No. 1 best-seller, “America, The Book,” nabbed this year’s Thurber Prize for American Humor, awarded last night at a ceremony at New York’s The Algonquin -- where Harpo Marx and Dorothy Parker sat at the Round Table. (www.thurberhouse.org)

While honors are lovely, and we’re sure he was duly touched, it’s all just icing on the cake for the host of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart.” I Want Media declared him Media Person of the Year for 2004, but 2005 seems to be turning out OK. Ratings for the show are up 20%, and ad revenue is up 100% through August, to $41 million.

But with such power comes great responsibility. As Crain’s New York reports this week (www.newyorkbusiness.com), publishers are tripping over themselves to get booked on “The Daily Show,” both left- and right-wingers, because it puts their authors in front of an audience that reads. Which means his show is shaping up to be the Oprah Book Club for the political press.

Pundits such as Seth Siegel of the Beanstalk Group told Crain’s New York he believes Stewart “is as important in shaping opinions today as Walter Cronkite was in the ‘70s ... for people 18 to 24.” Let’s remember of course, that “The Daily Show” doesn’t actually report news, it riffs off the real news, much as blogs do on the Web. But blogs have already proved they can move the political needle, so its not surprising people are declaring the former stand up comic as a major force in the national conversation.

Michael Cornfield, senior research consultant at the Pew Internet & American Life Project told Crain’s, “His influence is not just in the size or demographics of his audience. He’s part of the daily diet of decision-makers in Washington and New York,” he says. “You can’t measure that in numbers. You measure it around the watercooler.”

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