WSJ Buys CNN Ratings Spin on ‘Parker Spitzer’

The Wall Street Journal got snookered, buying into CNN’s spin regarding the growing ratings for “Parker Spitzer,” the news net’s new 8 p.m. show.

Call it the BS on “PS.”

It’s too early to say whether “Parker Spitzer” will survive ratings-wise, but here’s one of those important- Parkerspitzer sounding paragraphs that, under closer inspection, is almost completely meaningless:

But by Thursday, the audience for “Parker Spitzer” had grown nearly a quarter among younger viewers from its debut, Nielsen said. After its first night, it also started surpassing the audience for CNN’s 9 p.m. host, Larry King, among viewers between 25 and 54 years old, the most common target audience for news advertisers.

That growth of “nearly a quarter” — which sounds impressive on its face, certainly — boils down to about 20,000 adults age 25-54, or a puny fraction of 130 million people or so who fall within that category. It might reflect genuine growth by the new show, hosted by Kathleen Parker and Eliot Spitzer. But this early in the game, it could just as easily be a statistical anomaly. In addition, improving on ratings for Larry King, at this point, is a little bit like being the tallest one of the seven dwarfs.

People love to report on Nielsen ratings like they’re gospel. Yet as a research guy at a small cable network once told me, when the needle temporarily ticks a little bit in one direction or another, it could almost be as simple as one or two people in the Nielsen sample staying home that night instead of going out to dinner, or vice versa.

Kudos to CNN for saying they’re in it for the long haul if they really believe in the show, and if the ratings stay elevated over the next couple of weeks, then maybe they’re gaining some traction.

But comparing the ratings for the first two nights to Thursday and suggesting that indicates growth is utter nonsense, and you’d think — or at least hope — somebody at the Journal would be sophisticated enough to recognize that.

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