Talk about burying the lead.

At the very end of a piece about the ratings for Fox’s new singing competition “The X Factor,” reporter Brian Stelter asks, “What remains unknown is whether Fox is effectively fragmenting the audience for singing competitions by having two flavors of shows on the air.”

Um, yeah.

Judging_NJ_Day1_0217For years, Fox resisted airing “American Idol” twice a year, as ABC does with “Dancing With the Stars” and CBS does with “Survivor,” because it didn’t want to gamble on diluting TV’s highest-rated program. So the big risk in “X Factor” wasn’t just how well Simon Cowell’s answer to “Idol” would do, but how much — or whether — the new show would cannibalize audience from his old one.

Given that “Idol” has thus far remained formidable even without Cowell — which had Fox execs sweating, then breathing a huge sigh of relief — that’s hardly a small matter. And any gains posted by “X Factor” in the fall over what Fox had been airing there has to be balanced against analysis of whether “American Idol” takes any kind of a hit in the winter and spring.

Admittedly, at this point we only know half the story — but that’s at least half of it. And it’s kind of hard to believe the Times would let Fox’s Mike Darnell and Cowell engage in chest-thumping about how well “X Factor” is doing without posing the question sooner or any evidence of asking them to address it.

In terms of reporting, I’d call that hitting a flat note.