Accuracy in Media

The February cable ratings are in and MSNBC and CNN did their best yesterday to spin the news so that they both came out winners.

MSNBC saw the ratings results this way:

MSNBC BEATS CNN IN PRIME FOR THE 13th MONTH IN A ROW AMONG TOTAL VIEWERS AND A25-54

“THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O’DONNELL” Continues MSNBC’s Trend of Beating CNN at 8p

That certainly sounds like good news for the network. They continued to beat third place CNN, though there was no mention of Fox whose total audience in February was more than MSNBC, CNN and HLN combined. O’Donnell held firm at 8 p.m. since taking over for Keith Olbermann, with his total audience increasing 7 percent from a year ago. For some reason, the network failed to mention the 9% drop in the key A25-54 demo which is the more widely followed number. It’s not that MSNBC only wanted to focus on the total audience figure in the press release, but which figures made them look better. In the case of reporting the ratings for Rachel Maddow the release led with the A25-54 number (+34%) while barely mentioning the total audience increase which at 11 percent was not as impressive as the key demo number.

CNN which remained in third place overall was not to be outdone by the spinmeisters at MSNBC and had their own take on the ratings.

IN FEBRUARY CNN GROWS 55% IN M-F PRIMETIME COMPARED TO A YEAR AGO, THE MOST OF ANY CABLE NEWS NETWORK;

CNN OVERTAKES MSNBC AT 10 PM AND IN TOTAL DAY;

Piers Morgan Tonight is Up 50% vs. a Year Ago;

John King, USA Has Best Month Since Launch;

FNC has Double Digit Declines throughout February

TRAFFIC TO CNN.com WAS UP GLOBALLY 10% YEAR OVER YEAR

CNN certainly had plenty to brag about as it was a very positive month for a change. Except for AC360, they remained largely in third place. But in general it is pretty easy to show significant growth when you are coming off of a low base, as CNN was.  Normally growth like this should have vaulted them past MSNBC, had they been competitive to begin with. While CNN was busy boasting about the progress they made, they conveniently neglected to mention that their ratings growth was largely due to people turning to the network during the Egyptian crisis. Unless there is continued upheaval in the world, the gains will be temporary.

Both networks had their spin machines going full tilt, but it was a little like having a pack of dogs fighting over table scraps, since they were still crushed by Fox. The real loser in February was HLN, which saw its primetime audience shrink by 32 percent  in the key demographic and 30 percent overall as viewers sought more current news.

Next time the cable networks boast about their ratings, take a look behind the numbers and don’t buy the spin.





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