CNN, Clinton click with viewers

Cabler coverage of convention paces field

Competitors may be sniping that CNN stands for the “Clinton News Network,” but Monday night, President Clinton’s farewell speech at the Democratic National Convention helped boost the news cabler to the front of the pack.

From 8 p.m. to midnight EST (Clinton’s speech ended at 11:20 p.m.), CNN posted a 1.8 rating (equivalent to 1.4 million households), topping competitors MSNBC’s 0.9 rating (529,000 households) and Fox News Channel’s 0.7 rating (356,000 households), according to Nielsen figures.

In addition to beating out MSNBC and Fox News combined, CNN also topped its numbers for the first night of the GOP convention, as well as its ratings from the first night of the Democratic National Convention in 1996.

‘Liberal bias’

“Viewers obviously felt more comfortable with the liberal bias over at CNN,” said a Fox News spokesman. However, Clinton gave Fox News a boost as well. The cabler’s ratings peaked during the president’s speech with a .8 rating (449,000 homes).

“We have reported and the viewers decided,” said a CNN spokeswoman, noting that the cabler’s audience was four times greater than Fox News’ for the night.

As for the broadcast nets, ABC led the way from 10 p.m. to 11:45 p.m. EST, drawing an average of 6 million viewers, slightly ahead of NBC (5.9 million) and CBS (5.3 million). PBS attracted approximately 3 million viewers. But the comparison isn’t entirely fair, since NBC’s figure includes nonconvention “Dateline” material from 10-10:30 p.m.

Disregarding Republican calls not to offer unequal coverage, the nets gave the Democrats more airtime than the Republicans got two weeks ago on opening night.

GOP chairman Jim Nicholson last week asked the big three nets to air “not a minute more” of the Democrats’ convention than they did of the GOP event in Philadelphia.

On the first night of the Republican National Convention, NBC carried no coverage, instead covering the proceedings on sister cabler MSNBC. Monday night, NBC aired nearly an hour of DNC coverage.

Convention launch

ABC, CBS and PBS also gave the Democrats significantly more coverage on the opening night of their convention — presumably because the night featured an address by Clinton. CNN actually gave the Republicans more coverage than the Democrats. Only Fox News claimed to give both gatherings exactly the same amount of time.

News execs insist that the Republicans’ request did not influence their coverage.

“With all due respect to Mr. Nicholson, it’s about editorial judgment,” said Marc Burstein, executive producer, special events, at ABC News. “The question is: Was carrying President Clinton’s speech until its conclusion a sound editorial choice? It was.”

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