Cabler leads CNN in ratings

CNN may have owned the first Persian Gulf War, but this go-round, Fox News Channel was the No. 1-rated cable network during the first days of the conflict.

Primetime ranking marks another rite-of-passage for Fox News, signaling that even on the biggest stories, the network can outshine its all-news rivals.

On the broadcast side, NBC News remained the network of choice, in both primetime and during the evening news.

According to Nielsen Media Research, Fox News averaged 5.58- million primetime viewers last week, with CNN attracting 4.37 million and MSNBC 2.15 million.

There is little doubt that TV news operations have plenty riding on the Iraqi war — especially CNN, which made its name providing exclusive coverage of the bombing of Baghdad by U.S. forces in 1991.

Overall, each of the 24-hour cable news networks saw a dramatic gain in viewers last week, commencing on Wednesday night with word the U.S. and its allies had launched the Iraq invasion. Fox was up 379% vs. the same week last year while CNN soared by 393% and MSNBC skyrocketed by 651%.

Fox, which declined comment on its ratings win, has beaten CNN for much of the past year.

CNN tried to deflect any worry over the ratings, pointing out it still ranked No. 1 in total reach, with 90.3 million viewers tuning in during the first five days of the war, according to cume ratings compiled by Nielsen. A total of 67 million viewers tuned into Fox during the same time period.

“The number of people in this country who check in with CNN reflects the net’s newsgathering strength and our editorial integrity,” CNN spokesman Matt Furman said.

In January, CNN chief news exec Eason Jordan told the Television News Critics that “we’re very much committed to trying to own the story like we did in ’91.”

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