By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 2, 2007; 9:54 AM

Hahahaha--here's a funny one.

Jon Stewart is now setting the agenda for presidential campaign coverage.

No joke! The pack has been following him in recent days. That's either because he's sharper than your average MSMer when it comes to video analysis, or because he's got a small army of kids poring over the TiVo for ridicule-worthy sound bites.

Thus it was that the "Daily Show" strung together clips of Hillary Rodham Clinton laughing--loudly, uproariously and sometimes oddly--during her Full Ginsburg of Sunday show interviews last week. (There was also a great bit depicting her as a robot.) That 30 seconds made clear, in a way that mere words could not, that the Hillary laugh was a calculated tactic to deflect tough questions and perhaps soften her image in the process.

I used the sound on "Reliable Sources" Sunday. The New York Times did a piece on what it called the Clinton Cackle. "Good Morning America," "Hardball" and "Hannity & Colmes" (Sean called the guffaw "maniacal") weighed in yesterday. Now the controversy-- Is she real? Is she a phony? Do we want to listen to that laugh for the next five years? -- is No Laughing Matter.

Yes, of course it's silly. From cleavage to cackling. What's next, debating the way she colors her hair?

But here's what is really going on: Sen. Clinton is being depicted in the press as the inevitable Democratic nominee and, therefore, a good bet to become the 44th president. The media want more of a primary race--never discount that as a factor--but the country is trying to decide if it feels comfortable with another President Clinton. And so journalists are examining her personality quirks precisely because she is doing so well, and because it's more fun than analyzing her health plan.

Here's that NYT piece:

"The weirdest moment was with Bob Schieffer on the CBS News program 'Face the Nation' when Mr. Schieffer said to Mrs. Clinton, 'You rolled out your new health care plan, something Republicans immediately said is going to lead to socialized medicine.' She giggled, giggled some more, and then could not seem to stop giggling -- 'Sorry, Bob,' she said -- and finally unleashed the full Cackle . . .

"Clinton advisers find the interest in her laugh a little laughable. They fall somewhere between bemused and irritated by questions that suggest Mrs. Clinton is less than genuine -- like whether her use of laughter during an interview was a way for her to undercut a serious question or to avoid answering it altogether.

" 'Seems pretty basic -- that's the way she laughs,' one Clinton adviser said. 'She has a good sense of humor about the process.' " Now there's a comment worthy of off-the-record protection.

Slate's John Dickerson deconstructs the essence of the laugh:

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