RealClearPolitics Media Watch

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CNN in a Free Fall

It looks like one of the biggest casualties of the Obama Administration is CNN.

Fourth months into the new presidency, television ratings for cable news networks on the right and left have improved, both at the expense of CNN, the one-time industry leader and purported non-partisan network.

In May, Fox News continued its reign as the cable news leader with more audience than No. 2 MSNBC and No. 3 CNN combined. The nine top rated prime-time news shows were all Fox News programs, led by "The O'Reilly Factor" - the top show for the 102nd consecutive month - "Hannity" and "Glenn Beck."

MSNBC, for the second time in three months, trumped CNN in total viewers, solidifying its position as the No. 2 network. "Countdown with Keith Olbermann" is the only non-Fox News program to crack the top 10, and "The Rachel Maddow Show" has topped CNN's "Larry King Live" at the 9 p.m. slot for the seventh time in eight months among viewers aged 25-54.

Most troubling for CNN is the continuing decline of its heavily-promoted "Anderson Cooper 360." Its sharp drop in viewership hasn't stopped since Election Day, with several nights this month failing to reach even half a million (by contrast, O'Reilly pulls an average of nearly 3 million).

There's no question the swing to the center has hurt the network, notes Michael Calderon of Politico:

"The audience is becoming increasingly accustomed to finding opinions in prime-time," said Tom Rosenstiel, director of Pew's Project for Excellence in Journalism. ...

And there's a certain irony in all the hand-wringing because a news network decides upon taking a less ideological approach to the news in prime-time. In the 1990's, CNN couldn't shake the "Clinton News Network" nickname among conservatives, and yet now, is viewed as the more moderate network given MSNBC's prime-time lurch to the left.

One silver lining for CNN is the rapid improvement of HLN, formerly Headline News. Led by Nancy Grace's reporting on various missing children and social gossip, HLN is up a whopping 43% in total viewers compared to May 2008. HLN even surpassed CNN for the most desired 25-54 demographic for third place (219,000 vs. 216,000) in May.