July 20, 2011

FNC trails far behind rivals in Murdoch coverage

Evening Cable Daytime Cable
CNN 130 35
MSNBC 125 18
FOX 24 4

24 – Number of weekday prime-time minutes Fox devoted to the News Corp. scandal from July 6-15.

Fox News dominates the ratings in prime-time cable, with popular hosts such as Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity. How have they responded to their own parent company being in the news?

The answer is they haven’t considered it nearly as much of a story as their rivals.

The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism analyzed the content of four hours of daily prime time and an hour a day of daytime programming. The analysis finds that the Murdoch- owned Fox News Channel devoted about one-fifth as much time to the story as MSNBC and about one-sixth as much time as CNN.

The study looked at cable coverage from July 6-8 and from July11-15, a period that began right after reports that the News of the World tabloid had hacked into the phone of a murdered 13-year-old girl and ended with the resignations of two top Murdoch confidants.

In that time frame, CNN and MSNBC devoted virtually the same amount of prime-time attention to the story— 129 minutes and 41 seconds on CNN and 125 minutes and 24 seconds on MSNBC, or roughly 16 minutes per night in prime time.

The Fox News Channel, in contrast, devoted 23 minutes and 34 seconds to the subject, or an average of about three minutes per night.

In addition, PEJ also looked at an hour of weekday daytime coverage of the scandal from July 6-15. Daytime cable tends to be more hard-news oriented than the opinion-driven evening programming, but the same basic pattern emerged.

CNN spent the most time on the subject, just over four minutes per hour (35 minutes and 19 seconds over the eight days). That was substantially more than MSNBC (18 minutes, 19 seconds.) The Fox News Channel spent a total of 3 minutes and 52 seconds on the story over those eight hours.

(On July 19, all three channels, including Fox News, carried live daytime coverage of Murdoch’s appearance before the British Parliament.)

The dramatic events affecting Murdoch’s News Corp. in the past two weeks, while centered overseas, have also brought some renewed scrutiny of Murdoch’s newest U.S. newspaper purchase, the Wall Street Journal, which published a controversial interview with him last week and a subsequent editorial criticizing the rest of the media for its coverage. Murdoch bought the Journal, the, country’s largest daily, in late 2007.

A new PEJ examination of the Journal front pages from 2007 through the first half of 2011 does reveal some significant changes in the front-page topics that paper has chosen to cover in the Murdoch era—a shift in direction that seems to reflect News Corp’s desire to make the Journal more competitive with the New York Times.

Mark Jurkowitz and Tricia Sartor of PEJ