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CNBC spat mints online hits for Stewart and Colbert

When Comedy Central's fake-news pundits pulled out all the stops against the cable news show, traffic and Web video views hit yearly highs.

So either Jon Stewart is really on to something with his mad-as-hell crusade against financial hypocrisy and stupidity, or there are a lot of unemployed people watching Comedy Central clips to pass the time.

Either way, an on-air freakout by CNBC reporter Rick Santelli may have been one of the best things to happen to Comedy Central in months: Fake-news pundits Stewart (of "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart") and Stephen Colbert (of "The Colbert Report") have seen traffic to their Web sites and online video clips soar after the two went on mocking vendettas against Santelli, fellow CNBC personality Jim Cramer, and the NBC Universal-owned business network in general.

Traffic to the shows' Web sites has been at its highest of the year so far in the past week, at over 60 percent their weekly average for 2009., which hosts video clips of both programs, also had its best traffic of the year, and the digital version of a viciously funny clip called "CNBC Gives Financial Advice" logged over 1.3 million views in a week, the sort of numbers usually reserved for grainy videos of cats behaving unnaturally.

Here's the back story: Santelli was supposed to appear on "The Daily Show" after his tirade about the federal government's economic bailout, but backed out abruptly. That's when Stewart and Colbert--but especially Stewart--turned up the heat. Stewart went on the aforementioned anti-CNBC rant on March 5, putting "Mad Money" host Jim Cramer squarely in his crosshairs. Cramer appeared on "The Colbert Report" the following night.

Now, Cramer is scheduled to make a "Daily Show" appearance on Thursday night.

Stewart and Colbert have been two of the most visible figures in cable television's slow crawl onto the Web. Not only are they wildly popular with young and tech-savvy audiences, but the segmented format of their talk shows lends itself well to being split into short clips and swapped via video-sharing sites, which meant that unauthorized clips of the two were some of YouTube's earliest hits. That's what indirectly led to Comedy Central parent company Viacom's massive copyright lawsuit against YouTube owner Google.

Later on, the full archives of both shows were made available on Comedy Central's Web site, and recent episodes are available in full on Hulu (as well as iTunes and Xbox Live).

Colbert, who started out as a commentator on "The Daily Show" before spinning off his blowhard persona into his own talk show, also owes a big chunk of his notoriety to the Web. Video of C-SPAN's coverage of the White House Press Correspondents' dinner three years ago, in which Colbert performed a shockingly blunt comedy routine that skewered then-President George W. Bush, among those who wouldn't have considered actually watching C-SPAN in the first place.

Last year, Colbert was honored by the annual Webby Awards as "Person of the Year." Take that, nonbelievers!