WASHINGTON – Barbara Meade said she had never seen so many young people at her bookstore.
More than 500 of them braved dreary,rainy weather and a slow-moving line that stretched for blocks from the entrance to Politics and Prose Bookstore and Coffeehouse. Most in high school or college,they waited for hours Friday to meet one of their generation's most influential figures: comedian Jon Stewart.
Stewart hosts “The Daily Show,” a satirical “fake news” broadcast on Comedy Central that has become wildly popular,particularly among young people.
Stewart teamed with Daily Show writers to create “America (The Book): A Citizens' Guide to Democracy Inaction,” a satirical take on American history. The book resembles a high school civics textbook – with twists.
Stewart and Ben Karlin,another Daily Show writer,signed hundreds of books at the store,which more often appeals to the capital's adult policy wonks with discussions about serious books. Meade said Stewart's appearance was the store's biggest event since former President Clinton signed copies of his book,“My Life,” over the summer.
“A lot of young people really get into him,so he has a lot of influence,” said Mimi Newman,16,a high school sophomore.
Newman said her civics teacher polled the class recently,finding about half the students get their news from Stewart's show.
Newman and her 15-year old classmate,Hannah Wides,waited for hours to meet Stewart. Wides said “The Daily Show” offers her an alternative to the sobriety of conventional news shows.
“I watch NBC,and I just end up getting depressed from the news that I see,” she said. “Then I can turn to ‘The Daily Show' and it makes me feel better.”
Newman said that,unlike other newscasters,Stewart is willing to take on politicians.
“Some of the politicians say stuff that is just really stupid sometimes,and ‘The Daily Show' is going to make fun of them for what they say,” Newman said.
For example,after the Oct. 5 vice presidential debate,in which Democrat John Edwards made a point to praise Vice President Dick Cheney for his loving his gay daughter,other news networks mentioned that the comment might be seen as an underhanded trick.
Stewart mocked Edwards instead,repeating what the candidate said but yelling the word “gay.”
Along with making fun of top politicians and putting a satirical spin on current events,“The Daily Show,” which recently won two Emmys,mocks the dramatic undertones of conventional news shows and self-importance of television correspondents.
Andrew Farmer,17,a high school senior,said ‘The Daily Show' actually comes closer to highlighting the news than some of the networks,which he thinks back down in fear of seeming biased.
“I like Jon Stewart because he says all the things that other news channels don't say for political reasons,” he said.
Farmer's classmate,Ali Ahmed,17,said the show and the book have to be taken for what they are,comedy.
The book contains a “matching” exercise at the end of one of its chapters. It asks the reader to match the country in the first column to its sworn enemy in the second column. Nearly every Middle Eastern country is in the first column. The only choice in the second column is Israel.
A native of Bahrain,Ahmed said his country has never said anything that suggests Israel is its enemy.
“It's funny,but they are also taking advantage of people's ignorance,” he said.
Mike Jayes,16,a high school sophomore,arrived at the store three hours early to get in line. He said he knows it's a good idea to watch other news besides “The Daily Show,” but he often finds it difficult.
“I don't like the 24-hour news,the CNN and all that,” he said. “It's really watered down and biased. It's kind of fake.”