One of my I-net correspondents has been jabbing me with some “I-told-you-so” missives about Faux News – er, Fox News – winning some cable TV ratings in the month of February. He’s right. But he’s also wrong.

Without going into reams of statistics – ratings points, share, demos, etc. – the fact is Faux News – er, Fox News – got the top 12 hourly spots rated overall. All 12. So everybody else should just shut down and go home, right? Well, not exactly. If you delved into piles of boring statistics, you’d find some interesting facts that make the outcome a bit less definitive.

For example, the show that finished next highest was MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow followed by “PoliticsNation” with Rev. Al Sharpton. Now, that’s odd. A couple of left-of-center opinionists? All Fox – then Maddow? Then Sharpton? What about all those CNN heavyweights like Cooper, King, Blitzer and Morgan? Well, they finished further back.

Fact is, MSNBC got the most total viewers and CNN got what advertisers want most – best demographics or “demos.” Not Fox. More older people watched Fox. We seniors are less desirable viewers to the ad folks. A lot of folks watched MSNBC but more in the ages 25-45 watched CNN. Two February news events boosted CNN’s fortunes – at least temporarily – wall-to-wall coverage of Whitney Houston’s death and the GOP debate hosted by John King. Without those, MSNBC would have won both categories.

Now, let’s do head-to-head comparisons aside from those numbers. Doing so will show why my crowing conservative friend is right – and wrong.

We start from the basis that Fox tilts to the right. Not just my view. It’s fact. Then there’s the leftward lean of MSNBC. Another fact. As for CNN, folks there try to stay in the middle of the road. And do so fairly successfully with the use of guests and a stable of regulars that well-represent both sides of the political highway.

Of the three, CNN and Fox have been in the news business the longest. MSNBC -though backed by NBC News – is developing more news coverage but is still dominated by talkers and opinion. On the political spectrum, CNN and MSNBC share more common ground than either one does with Fox. Said another way, if Fox viewers are wanting to stay in their comfort levels putting up with the Fox spin, they aren’t interested in the other two networks.

So, in ratings, CNN and MSNBC are more likely to split the available audience pool than they are to attract Fox viewers. And that means the single network with fewer but more hardcore viewers can win a ratings sweep. It’s exactly like trying to get Gingrich, Santorum and Paul out of the GOP presidential primary so Romney can win. Romney’s potential voting pool is being split.

I wish I were able to just congratulate Fox on the February sweeps win and go on to something more worthwhile. But, as a longtime reporter, I can’t. For two reasons.

First, there is no denying Fox tilts and spins its coverage and reporting. I’m not talking O’Reilly or Hannity. Neither is a regular reporter. I’m talking about run-of-the-mill, daily people on the street. Owner Murdoch has made no secret of what he wants his media empire to report or the flavor he wants in that output. Fox’s Roger Ailes is the tough ringmaster to make it happen. Each day. All day. Most Fox watchers know it and, for far too many, it reinforces whatever their view of the world might be. Correct. Or not.

And that leads to the second reason for my lack of congratulations. At least two comprehensive independent studies of Fox News viewers have reached the same two conclusions. One is they are far more likely to be poorly informed about facts in nearly any national or international story. And, two, the majority of Fox watchers – not all – are poorly versed on civics, financial issues, world affairs, government and the mechanics of how our nation works. Two studies. No connection. Both with large, nationwide samplings. Each with nearly identical outcomes.

Imagine a national survey that showed more people ate fudge than oat cereal every day. Great for the fudge makers. Until the American Dental Association points out the long-term damage being done.

Lots of folks might like the “taste” and the “flavor” of their daily Fox fudge consumption. But the fact is, like the dental folks say, “look at the long-term damage being done.”

Comments are closed.