The kickoff to the year of 2021 was quite a rollercoaster-like week for the United States.
On Jan. 3, there was the release of audio of Donald Trump pressuring the Georgia Secretary of State to help “find” him more votes from the presidential election. Two days later, Georgia was also in focus as it was Election Day there for the runoff races between four candidates vying for two senate seats — at stake was either a continued Republican majority in the U.S. senate or a theoretic Democratic control in a 50-50 split scenario with incoming Vice President Kamala Harris as the tiebreaker. The prime time viewer winner on cable that evening was MSNBC. From 8-11 p.m. ET on Jan. 5, MSNBC’s election coverage with Rachel Maddow, Brian Williams, Nicolle Wallace, Joy Reid and Steve Kornacki drew 4.655 million viewers. Fox News was close behind with 4.35 million; CNN averaged 3.9 million. MSNBC nearly topped CBS (4.68 million) but it, along with its cable news competition, each outdrew the other broadcast networks NBC (3.6 million), ABC (3.4 million) and Fox (1.79 million).
CNN was the No. 1 prime time network (also over broadcast TV) in adults 25-54 with approximately 1.39 million viewers within that key demographic. MSNBC was runner-up (~1.15 million); Fox News (~870,000) trailed behind.
As developments of the two tight races were unfolding in the overnight (and which ultimately led to victories for Democrats Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff), MSNBC remained the most-watched cable news outlet. Here’s the breakdown:
- MSNBC: 4.619 million viewers
- CNN: 3.452 million viewers
- Fox News Channel: 3.308 million viewers
- MSNBC: 3.822 million viewers
- CNN: 3.144 million viewers
- Fox News Channel: 1.835 million viewers
- MSNBC: 2.514 million viewers
- CNN: 2.301 million viewers
- Fox News Channel: 1.084 million viewers
- MSNBC: 1.837 million viewers
- CNN: 1.830 million viewers
- Fox News Channel: 0.756 million viewers
Then, the infamous date of Jan. 6, 2021 when the Electoral College vote was to be officially declared by elected government leaders at the U.S. Capitol. While that would eventually occur later that night, the afternoon was marred by the swarm of Trump-supporting invaders of the Capitol building to disrupt the process. Multiple networks broke into covering the surreal chaotic scene — the first time the U.S. Capitol was under siege since 1814 during the War of 1812. CNN was tops, peaking at 10.17 million viewers in the 4-5 p.m. ET hour; the 5-6 p.m. ET drew 10.05 million. Those same two hours were also highly watched for MSNBC (4-6 p.m. ET: 6.41 million) and Fox News (4-5 p.m. ET: 6.53 million; 5-6 p.m. ET: 6.18 million).
Insurrection coverage on the Trump-friendly outlet Newsmax TV posted the following viewer figures: 0.80 million (noon-2 p.m.), 1.02 million (2-5 p.m.), 1.22 million (5-6 p.m.), 1.045 million (6-7 p.m.), 1.03 million (for “Greg Kelly Reports” 7-8 p.m.) and 0.77 million (for “Stinchfield” 8-9:30 p.m.).
Advancing to prime time, as Washington D.C. implemented a curfew, tougher security via the National Guard arrived at the Capitol, and debates among senators and congressmembers were able to resume, the Big-3 broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, NBC) preempted its regular schedule to report on the events of the day. Yet, cable news continued to be a more popular destination for up-to-date information; two of those outlets led all of television in viewership. From 8-11 p.m. Eastern, CNN averaged 8.42 million viewers and MSNBC 7.64 million. MSNBC’s broadcast parent NBC posted 5.82 million, followed by Fox News (4.7 million) and ABC (3.84 million). CBS’s special report coverage from 9-11 p.m. ET averaged 2.23 million.
CNBC’s “The News with Shepard Smith”, which had aired from 7-9 p.m., drew 345,000 viewers; approximately 100,000 more than its nightly average from recent weeks.
The calendar turned from 2020 to 2021 last week, and the three cable news channels still remained popular but it was ESPN, which featured the College Football Playoff on New Year’s Day, that led all cable networks in all key figures (total viewers and demos). In total day (6 p.m. to 5:59 a.m.) data for the week ending Jan. 3, 2021, according to Nielsen Media Research, CNN was runner-up to ESPN in total viewers (1.25 million, to ESPN’s 2.43 million) but topped cable news. The annual New Year’s Eve Live coverage from Times Square on CNN with Anderson Cooper and Andy Cohen reached an all-time high (since its 2001 initial special) with 3.364 million viewers — a near-doubling of its year-ago audience (1.727 million from Dec. 31, 2019; +95 percent year over year).
The third and fourth place spots on all of cable were Fox News Channel (1.13 million) and MSNBC (1.015 million).
In full, here are the cable news prime time averages for Dec. 28, 2020-Jan. 3, 2021:
Total Day (6 a.m.-5:59 a.m.)
- Fox News Channel: 1.293 million viewers; 180,000 adults 25-54
- CNN: 1.252 million viewers; 297,000 adults 25-54
- MSNBC: 1.282 million viewers; 155,000 adults 25-54
Prime Time (Dec. 28-Jan. 2 @ 8-11 p.m.; Jan. 3 @ 7-11 p.m.)
- Fox News Channel: 1.771 million viewers; 249,000 adults 25-54
- CNN: 1.594 million viewers; 406,000 adults 25-54
- MSNBC: 1.430 million viewers; 218,000 adults 25-54
Top 10 most-watched cable news programs in total viewers:
1. New Year’s Eve Live with Anderson Cooper and Andy Cohen (CNN, Thu. 12/31/2020 8:00 PM, 270 min.) 3.364 million viewers
2. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Tue. 12/29/2020 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 2.830 million viewers
3. Rachel Maddow Show (MSNBC, Wed. 12/30/2020 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 2.794 million viewers
4. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Mon. 12/28/2020 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 2.768 million viewers
5. Rachel Maddow Show (MSNBC, Mon. 12/28/2020 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 2.681 million viewers
6. Rachel Maddow Show (MSNBC, Tue. 12/29/2020 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 2.629 million viewers
7. The Five (FOXNC, Wed. 12/30/2020 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 2.598 million viewers
8. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Wed. 12/30/2020 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 2.536 million viewers
9. The Five (FOXNC, Tue. 12/29/2020 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 2.526 million viewers
10. New Year’s Eve Live with Brooke Baldwin and Don Lemon (CNN, Thu. 12/31/2020 12:30 AM, 60 min.) 2.522 million viewers
Top 10 cable news programs (and the top MSNBC and Fox News program and its associated rank) among adults 25-54:
1. New Year’s Eve Live with Anderson Cooper and Andy Cohen (CNN, Thu. 12/31/2020 8:00 PM, 270 min.) 1.205 million adults 25-54
2. New Year’s Eve Live with Brooke Baldwin and Don Lemon (CNN, Thu. 12/31/2020 12:30 AM, 60 min.) 0.953 million adults 25-54
3. Situation Room (CNN, Mon. 12/28/2020 6:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.531 million adults 25-54
4. Erin Burnett Outfront (CNN, Mon. 12/28/2020 7:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.515 million adults 25-54
5. Situation Room (CNN, Tue. 12/29/2020 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.497 million adults 25-54
6. CNN Newsroom (CNN, Sun. 1/3/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.488 million adults 25-54
7. Situation Room (CNN, Mon. 12/28/2020 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.486 million adults 25-54
8. CNN Newsroom (CNN, Sun. 1/3/2021 6:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.464 million adults 25-54
9. CNN Newsroom (CNN, Sun. 1/3/2021 7:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.463 million adults 25-54
10. Situation Room (CNN, Tue. 12/29/2020 6:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.456 million adults 25-54
17. Rachel Maddow Show (MSNBC, Tue. 12/29/2020 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.427 million adults 25-54
30. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Tue. 12/29/2020 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.394 million adults 25-54
Americans Become Their Own Media
If the truth is to be told, shared and understood, many Americans now believe they have no choice but to act as their own media.
As the mainstream, corporate media has transformed from watchdogs and information disseminators to cheerleaders, suppressors and protectors, citizens now have to take on the aforementioned traditional roles themselves.
If the truth is to be told, shared and understood, many Americans now believe they have no choice but to act as their own media.
Grant Stinchfield devoted part of his Friday Newsmax program to laying out why he believes the rapid, deleterious changes that have overcome our nation in just the last week will only serve to weaken the country. He was joined by former Housing and Urban Development Secretary, Ben Carson, who set the stage for what the country must be aware of as we enter a period of adjustment in America. Neither man targeted the mainstream media by name, but their discussion contained an unmistakable call for citizens to be alert and vigilant. They need to do the job that, in years past, was the duty of the media.
“With only three days in the White House, Joe Biden claims he wants to ‘Build Back Better,’ yet every move he has made leads you to believe he wants to tear it down worse,” Stinchfield began, noting the Biden quickly removed both the Winston Churchill bust and military battle flags from the Oval Office. “We went from America First to America Last in a matter of three days, and the D.C. swamp is reemerging.”
Presidents have traditionally entered office experiencing a “honeymoon period,” characterized by unsustainably high approval ratings. Not so this year, as Rasmussen Reports pegs Biden’s approval at just 48%, lower than the starting point for both Barack Obama and Donald Trump. Many Americans, possibly most, understand that sans a flood of mail-in ballots with a lack of signature verification, the likelihood is high that Donald Trump would still be president. Many citizens also fear what will be the immediate dismantling of the Trump policies that led to unprecedented peace and prosperity across the nation.
“There will be a lot of things that will not be able to be torn apart, and we need to concentrate on those,” Carson noted. “I hope people are paying very close attention, because you see two very distinct philosophies on how things should be run.”
The mainstream media, once a protector of the individual, has now become a protector of the ruling class. While not calling out the liberal media specifically, Carson has for years called out the true duty of government, as laid out in the Constitution.
“When this country was created, it was created as a place where there would be individual freedoms, where you could live your life the way you wanted, believe what you wanted. You had religious freedom as long as your rights didn’t impinge on the next person’s rights. But then there’s always been a group that has felt that the government should be in charge, that true utopia is a place where you give the government full power from cradle to grave, and they take care of you.” In just the past few days, American watchdogs and a sliver of the national news media has called out this overarching theme enveloping the new administration’s executive orders and policy proposals.
“I implore the American people – pay attention to what’s going on,” Carson said. “Remember what’s happened over the last four years, how the economy just skyrocketed because of the policies – removing all of those regulations, letting people spend their own money and determine their own way. Those are the things that had a very, very rapid ameliorating effect on America.”
Carson is right to put the onus on citizens to track the changing effects over the next few years, knowing much of the American media will attempt to deflect, deceive and obscure the truth from viewers.
Stinchfield played a clip of President Biden, after months of blaming his predecessor for everything related to COVID-19, saying that “there is nothing we can do to change the trajectory of the pandemic in the next several months.” A far different tune than he and his party of resistance sang for the past year, and a clear example of what Stinchfield and Carson want viewers to be on the alert for.
“The way that the previous administration was able to get business, and industry and science and universities to all work together, to come up with a vaccine in record-breaking time. No one thought it could be done, and yet it was done because of the push there to try and save lives.”
Carson did not mention the press as he summed up, however his all-encompassing point cannot be understated.
“China is not going to destroy us. Russia is not going to destroy us. Iran is not going to destroy us. North Korea is not going to destroy us. What will destroy us is us, if we continue to listen to the purveyors of hatred.”
Americans can no longer trust the mainstream press to present truthful reality. They must now take that burden upon themselves.
CNN Comfortable in the Cable News Ratings Lead
According to Nielsen Media Research’s fast national data (not including out-of-home viewing), CNN averaged 3.8 million total viewers and 1.08 million adults 25-54 on Jan. 13 from 12:30 p.m. to 4:45 p.m. ET.
CNN continues to thrive since the Nov. 3, 2020 presidential election.
The week ending Jan. 17, 2021 was highlighted by Congress’ second impeachment vote on Donald Trump on Wednesday Jan. 13, as a result of the Jan. 6 insurrection by his supporters at the Capitol. CNN was not only the top cable news outlet in coverage, but it also topped ABC and CBS in key figures (NBC did not break in to regularly scheduled programming that day). According to Nielsen Media Research’s fast national data (not including out-of-home viewing), CNN averaged 3.8 million total viewers and 1.08 million adults 25-54 on Jan. 13 from 12:30 p.m. to 4:45 p.m. ET.
MSNBC was runner-up in total viewers with 2.58 million; in third place with 464,000 adults 25-54. One positive for them on the day, as well as the week: the Jan. 13th edition of “The Rachel Maddow Show” was the most-watched cable news telecast.
An average of 2.4 million (530,000 aged 25-54) tuned in to ABC (12:24-5:00 p.m. ET).
CBS aired just 23 minutes of impeachment coverage (4:22-4:46 p.m. ET), yet drew more than Fox News Channel’s entire afternoon — CBS’s 1.9 million viewers/388,000 25-54 vs. FNC’s 1.39 million viewers/278,000 25-54.
Here are the cable news prime time averages for Jan. 11-17, 2021:
Total Day (6 a.m.-5:59 a.m.)
- CNN: 2.177 million viewers; 591,000 adults 25-54
- MSNBC: 1.838 million viewers; 325,000 adults 25-54
- Fox News Channel: 1.330 million viewers; 235,000 adults 25-54
Prime Time (Jan. 11-16 @ 8-11 p.m.; Jan. 17 @ 7-11 p.m.)
- CNN: 3.121 million viewers; 880,000 adults 25-54
- MSNBC: 2.834 million viewers; 508,000 adults 25-54
- Fox News Channel: 2.489 million viewers; 424,000 adults 25-54
Top 10 most-watched cable news programs (and the top Fox News program and its associated rank) in total viewers:
1. Rachel Maddow Show (MSNBC, Wed. 1/13/2021 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 4.765 million viewers
2. The Lead With Jake Tapper (CNN, Wed. 1/13/2021 4:00 PM, 60 min.) 4.714 million viewers
3. Situation Room (CNN, Wed. 1/13/2021 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 4.705 million viewers
4. Rachel Maddow Show (MSNBC, Tue. 1/12/2021 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 4.682 million viewers
5. Rachel Maddow Show (MSNBC, Thu. 1/14/2021 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 4.319 million viewers
6. Situation Room (CNN, Wed. 1/13/2021 6:00 PM, 60 min.) 4.274 million viewers
7. Anderson Cooper 360 (CNN, Wed. 1/13/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 4.249 million viewers
8. Rachel Maddow Show (MSNBC, Mon. 1/11/2021 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 4.218 million viewers
9. Cuomo Prime Time (CNN, Tue. 1/12/2021 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 4.174 million viewers
10. Anderson Cooper 360 (CNN, Thu. 1/14/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 4.015 million viewers
27. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Wed. 1/13/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.611 million viewers
Top 10 cable news programs (and the top MSNBC and Fox News programs and its associated ranks) among adults 25-54:
1. Situation Room (CNN, Wed. 1/13/2021 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 1.414 million adults 25-54
2. Situation Room (CNN, Wed. 1/13/2021 6:00 PM, 60 min.) 1.368 million adults 25-54
3. The Lead With Jake Tapper (CNN, Wed. 1/13/2021 4:00 PM, 60 min.) 1.366 million adults 25-54
4. Anderson Cooper 360 (CNN, Wed. 1/13/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 1.295 million adults 25-54
5. Cuomo Prime Time (CNN, Wed. 1/13/2021 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 1.212 million adults 25-54
6. CNN Tonight (CNN, Tue. 1/12/2021 10:00 PM, 60 min.) 1.195 million adults 25-54
7. Erin Burnett Outfront (CNN, Wed. 1/13/2021 7:00 PM, 60 min.) 1.185 million adults 25-54
8. Anderson Cooper 360 (CNN, Tue. 1/12/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 1.175 million adults 25-54
9. Cuomo Prime Time (CNN, Tue. 1/12/2021 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 1.163 million adults 25-54
10. CNN Special Coverage: 2nd Trump Impeachment Vote (CNN, Wed. 1/13/2021 2:00 PM, 60 min.) 1.138 million adults 25-54
24. Rachel Maddow Show (MSNBC, Wed. 1/13/2021 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.945 million adults 25-54
59. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Wed. 1/13/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.693 million adults 25-54
Source: Live+Same Day data, Nielsen Media Research
Note to Journalists: You’re Not Bigger Than the Moment
Journalists, anchors, and reporters need to understand that moments like this are never about them. Yet far too many act like Kanye West snatching the mic away from Taylor Swift.
This past week, I did what many people around the country did. I watched the inaugurations of Kamala Harris and Joe Biden.
Indeed, we were watching an historic moment. For the first time, America would have a woman serve as its Vice-President. She would also be the first African American and Asian-American to serve as VP.
I wanted to witness that moment. Moreover, I wanted to see how the various networks HANDLED that moment.
I wasn’t surprised at what I saw and heard.
As Harris was sworn in, anchor after anchor had to remind me that I had just “witnessed history”. Some even added jazzy commentary about the “American Experience”.
A constant problem in the news media strikes again.
Far too often, journalists want to make themselves part of the moment. They look for the catchy line or signature phrase that will forever be remembered, archived and hash-tagged to death. Journalists, anchors, and reporters need to understand that moments like this are never about them. Yet far too many act like Kanye West snatching the mic away from Taylor Swift.
Like many people in the business, I had to learn this lesson the hard way.
I harken back to one of my early jobs, working as a reporter for a small market news station. One evening, there was a major fire at a warehouse close to where I was living at the time. I had sprung into action, filled with the exhilaration of covering a breaking story.
As soon as I got to the scene, I spoke with a few witnesses and first responders, took notes, and then called into the newsroom. They immediately put me on the air with the anchor in the studio, who asked me to divulge what I had learned.
“Oh my God,” I cried. “It’s like a WAR ZONE out here!” I then went on to describe the scene of the burning building like I was reporting from Manhattan during 9-11. I wanted to make sure that I could grab and hold the attention of listeners.
The very next day, I was called into the News Director’s office. I thought I would be getting a hearty pat on the back. Instead, I got a swift kick in the ass.
“What the HELL was that last night?” he asked.
“Well, I was trying to report on….” He cut me off.
“You were trying to make yourself part of the story,” he said. “You need to learn that when it comes to reporting, less of YOU is ALWAYS more.”
He was right. It was a mistake that I never made again.
NO ONE DID IT BETTER THAN UNCLE WALTER
Walter Cronkite was the Godfather of electronic journalism. He always knew that it was the moment that would often speak for itself. He once famously said, “Our job is only to hold up the mirror – to tell and show the public what has happened.”
When I worked in news/talk, I kept an autographed photo of Cronkite in my office, behind my desk. I wanted to make sure that he was always looking over my shoulder. I also wanted my anchors and reporters to see him glaring back at them whenever they would sit in front of me. He was a permanent reminder of what our job was: we report the news without trying to BE the news.
Here are a few famous examples of how Cronkite mastered that philosophy.
“THE FLASH APPARENTLY OFFICIAL…”
All the major networks covered that fateful day on November 22nd, 1963 when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas. However, it was Cronkite who is most remembered. It wasn’t because of some catchphrase or commentary he came up with to encapsulate the moment.
Cronkite delivered the facts as he knew them. The painful pauses you could see him take to contain himself made him come across as genuine. In that moment, nothing else was needed. The nation was in pain and he was there with the nation.
Can you imagine how MODERN journalists and news anchors would have handled this?
Not every moment Cronkite covered was marred with tragedy. There was that historic occassion on July 20th, 1969 when Apollo 11 landed on the moon. Cronkite was sitting at the CBS Anchor desk preparing to deliver the news as it happened.
“I had just as much time to prepare for that landing as the space program did,” he said. “I watched it from the beginning. And yet, when that vehicle landed on the moon, I was speechless.”
The look on Cronkite’s face when ‘the Eagle had landed’ was one of the great moments in the history of journalism. There was no need to wax poetic about the moment itself. He was as excited as a kid on Christmas morning…just as the rest of the country was. Once again, he came across as genuine. There was no shame in being speechless because it was the best thing he could have done.
I cringe to think of how modern news networks would have handled that.
“AND WE’LL SEE YOU TOMORROW NIGHT!”
I’ll end with a brief segue into sports (as I’ve spent a few years in that format as well).
One of the greatest home run calls of all time came from Jack Buck. It was also one of the simplest home run calls of all time and epitomized the idea of “less is more”.
It was October 26th, 1991. Game 6 of the World Series between the Minnesota Twins and Atlanta Braves. The Twins needed to win to force a tiebreaking Game 7 or else their season would be over. In the bottom of the 11th inning, star outfielder Kirby Puckett came to the plate.
Buck was the Cronkite of sports. He didn’t need to do anything but sign off with a reminder that there would be one more game to be played the following evening. The sounds and images of that scene didn’t need further explanation or commentary on his part.
Ironically enough, by not trying to become part of the moment, he becamepart of the moment.
Viewers knew they were watching history in the making. They didn’t need to be reminded of it. As Uncle Walter would say, “And that’s the way it is.”
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