As usual, I've been following twenty-four hour cable news ratings very closely, but I've been keeping my mouth shut and my computer quiet. I knew strange things were happening, and I've been trying to figure out why. I've finally come to, if you'll pardon the oxymoron, a temporary conclusion: the economy is scaring the hell out of viewers, and they're turning to FoxNews for comfort.
First, let's accept as fact that the three twenty-four hour news channels have staked out ideological positions, and tailor their news presentations to reflect those positions. Fox favors the right, MSNBC leaps to the left and CNN muddles through the middle. I believe that people watch the news programs that best reflect their personal views; and that audiences avoid news programs that fail to reflect their own prejudices toward the performance of politicians who bear responsibility for current conditions.
I have compared year-to-year ratings for the three major cable news networks in the third week of April -- 09 vs. 08. That week's numbers continue the trend of previous week's -- Fox's numbers are way up. By and large, and this surprises me, even though last April was the middle of the primary season, viewing is up at all the news networks. It looks like Americans pay more attention to the economy than to politics. And perhaps even more importantly, tens of thousands of younger viewers have suddenly become tuned into cable news.
FoxNews has gained 416,000 viewers over 2 years old this April over last April, CNN has gained 178,000 and MSNBC is up 82,000. FoxNews picked up 114,000 viewers 18-49, CNN gained 36,000, and MSNBC picked up 12,000. In the youngest adult category 18-34 Fox picked up 26,000 viewers, CNN 12,000 viewers and MSNBC was down 4,000. (This category is notoriously unreliable because so few people under 34 watch news consistently.) In the key demographic, 25-54, Fox gained 146,000 viewers, CNN 33,000, and MSNBC was down 1,000.
The primetime results are even more striking. FoxNews added 918,000 viewers, CNN gained only 61,000 but MSNBC, perhaps due to Rachel Maddow, picked up 301,000. Among viewers 18-49, Fox picked up 29,000, CNN was down 1,000 and MSNBC 72,000. In the unreliable 18-34s, Fox picked up 59,000, CNN was down 7,000 and MSNBC picked up 34,000. Again the key demographic, 25-54, Fox gained 289,000, CNN lost 18,000 while MSNBC was up 55,000.
That most new cable news viewers are turning to Fox, rather than to CNN or MSNBC, is what's scaring the hell out of me. Fox anchors, particularly in primetime, preach a brand of ignorant negativity that will never help us get out of the economic mess we're in. They seem to hope that Obama will fail, while most of the rest of us hope that he will succeed. But, if I'm right when I say "most of us", why is it that more people are watching FoxNews in primetime than CNN and MSNBC combined.
I've written before that I believe what people watch on television more accurately reflects their true feelings than what they tell pollsters over the telephone. If that's the case, it would seem there are more haters than there are hopers, and we are in for a very hard time.
In hopes that that is not the case I will, for the first time on Huffington, consider Headline News a news network and point out that it too has gained hundreds of thousands of viewers year-to-year -- 2009 over 2008, it gained 339,000 primetime viewers. Since Nancy Grace is the real source of Headline's success, and she is purely entertainment, let us hope that Fox's new viewers are also seeking pure entertainment, and not depending on O'Reilly and/or Hannity for the facts, that viewers enjoy while they deride.