It's now a full month since Jacques Steinberg, The New York Times television reporter, wrote a piece entitled "FoxNews Finds It's Rivals Closing In". Gist of the piece: "Both CNN and MSNBC have added viewers at far more dramatic rates" than Fox. His report covered the first 6 months of 2008.
On July 7th, David Carr of the Times reported that Mr. Steinberg had been characterized on "Fox and Friends", a morning show on FoxNews, as the "trained attack dog" Mr. Steinberg's editor, Steven V. Reddicliffe, who had once edited TV Guide, that had at one time been owned by Fox's parent News Corporation and was according to "Fox and Friends", "a disgruntled former employee".
Carr wrote that the photographs of the two Timesmen used on the air "were heavily altered". He suggested that in the photos "Mr. Reddicliffe looked like the Wicked Witch after a hard night of drinking" and the photo of Mr. Steinberg had been altered by "a technique familiar to students of German propaganda, his ears were pulled out, his teeth splayed apart, his forehead lowered and his nose was widened and enlarged in a way that made him look more like Fagin than the guy I work with". Bill Carter, a longtime Times television reporter, told Carr that "he was appalled to see what he viewed as an anti-Semitic caricature of Mr. Steinberg, a colleague and a friend."
Carr reports that he and other working journalists whenever they write of FoxNews see -- "Danger. Warning. Much mayhem ahead." Once Fox PR lets loose there will be calls to editors, e-mail messages and "requests for interviews will quickly turn into depositions about my intent or whom else I am talking to.", he wrote.
Carr reported that when Steinberg was writing his piece "the public relations people at FoxNews did not return his requests for comment. (In a neat trick, while they were ignoring his calls, they e-mailed his boss asking why they had not heard from him.)"
It is clear that Fox does not like to hear bad news, or even worse to see it in print. But since I follow the news ratings very closely, before I took sides in the battle between Fox and the Times I decided to wait and see what the ratings were in July. Then we would have a new set of numbers and another chance to judge the performance of FoxNews, CNN, MSNBC, and The New York Times.
Below you will find the July Nielsen numbers for the three networks direct from the files of the ever-reliable Cynthia Turner's Cynopsis.
First the ground rules: Nielsen ratings divide adult TV audiences into three categories; 18-34, 18-49 and 25-54. (Advertisers do not pay for viewers 55 years or older.) Incidentally, over the last few years FoxNews has had the oldest audience of any of the cable networks.
The percentage numbers below compare the July 2008 primetime and total day audiences of the three networks with their July 2007 primetime and total day performance, in all three age categories and in total audience numbers:
In July, primetime Fox total audience grew 8 percent; CNN was up 13 percent and MSNBC 12 percent. In 18-34, Fox was up 5 percent, CNN gained 16 percent and MSNBC picked up 28 percent. In 18-49, it was Fox down 10 percent, MSNBC up 24 percent and CNN up 34 percent. Finally in the key demographic, the one on which most advertising money is spent, the 25-54, Fox was down 4 percent while CNN and MSNBC both picked up 25 percent.
Dare I say it? In primetime, "FoxNews Finds Its Rivals Closing In".
In total programming day, FoxNews gained 8 percent in total audience while CNN and MSNBC each picked up 11 percent. In 18-34, Fox was flat, CNN was up 30 percent and MSNB up 31 percent. In 18-49, it was Fox down 12 percent, CNN up 24 percent and MSNBC up 17 percent. In the critical 25-54 demographic, Fox was down 12 percent, CNN up 14 percent and MSNBC up 16 percent.
Dare I repeat it? In total day programming, "FoxNews Finds Its Rivals Closing In".
To be fair and balanced, it must be reported that CNN benefited enormously in July from the ratings surge of "Black in America", 8 hours of solid primetime documentaries on the status of Afro-Americans in the United States. It is extremely unlikely that CNN's primetime August schedule will generate the huge audiences that "Black in America" produced.
So maybe next month we won't be able to say "FoxNews Finds Its Rivals Closing In", but for the present it still holds up as solid reporting. Roger Ailes and his PR machine ought to face up to it and stop crying about it.