The Chicago Tribune's Phil Rosenthal has a column today sneering at the influence of people like Conan O'Brien (2.4 million viewers) or Stephen Colbert (1.5 million viewers). After all, Rosenthal wonders, how does a guy like Colbert get to speak to the White House Correspondents Dinner when he has only 1.5 million viewers?
Maybe because it makes him one of the highest-rated people in the room?
As I've pointed out before, I love when people who write for newspapers (which have circulations generally of between 250,000 and 1,000,000) sneer at TV shows for "only" attracting a couple of million people. Never mind that Rosenthal, who's a smart guy, should know better than to compare cable ratings (or late night ratings, for that matter) with prime-time numbers.
So let's compare cable with cable.
The media elevates people with half Colbert's ratings, like Bill O'Reilly or Anderson Cooper. Colbert generally has a bigger audience than Paula Zahn and Greta Van Sustren combined. And his audience is in the "money demo" instead of the "Depends demo."
That's why he's one of Time magazine's 100 most influential people. That's why he gets seven-figure book deals. Because 1.5 million people ain't nothing. Especially when you have balls.