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Hume climbs to second place

FNC skein has amassed a huge aud for cable news

Brit Hume, the Fox News Channel host who got an exclusive with the vice president after his hunting accident, has quietly slipped into second-place in the cable news wars.

“Special Report With Brit Hume” is now second to “The O’Reilly Factor,” a spot usually occupied by Greta Van Susteren, as a series of political scandals have trumped the missing persons beat.

Hume has amassed a huge audience for cable news — 1.5 million viewers a night — in an hour once known as the “black hole” for cable news in that it competes with both local news and the network evening newscasts on the east coast.

“We think people watching the mainstream media are getting a half-view of things,” Hume said. “I’ve tried to make it possible for people fed up with network news to come to this hour.”

Two weeks ago, Hume diverted from the other networks when an AP story reported the President was warned that Hurricane Katrina could “breach” New Orleans’ levies. FNC staff, looking for an angle, examined the source video, noting the word wasn’t “breached,” but “topped.”

“The whole frenzy was based on a false premise!” Hume said, still amused. “These kinds of things are like picking money up off the street.”

When FNC topper Roger Ailes asked the former ABC News White House correspondent to do a show at 6 p.m., it was intended to launch for the 2000 mid-term elections, but the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke and Ailes rushed the show on the air two months early, moving O’Reilly to 8 p.m.

Initially, the goal was little more than find a niche audience and showcase Fox’s Washington bureau. Hume’s producer on the show and wife Kim Hume said then, “if you start the show now you might be able to grab an audience and hold on to it.”

Hume’s aud, which grew 10% in February, more than double’s CNN’s Lou Dobbs’ audience during the hour and MSNBC’s “Abrams’ Report” barely puts up a fight.

Hume’s weakness is his relatively low numbers in the 25-54 demographic, which declined 6% to 352,000 in the same month, but he beats the competition by roughly the same margin there, too.

“The fact is the audience for politics tends to be older people who have acquired a stake in America and want to see it protected or advanced in some way,” he said. “Those are the people who read newspapers and are the strongest news consumers.”

More to the point, Hume said, “I’m 62 years old — I don’t know how to be anybody else.”