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MSNBC Says It Erred On June ‘Hardball’ Ratings

CNN and Fox News Channel both pointed out Tuesday that MSNBC included special coverage of Tim Russert’s death and memorial in its June data ratings for Hardball With Chris Matthews – prompting MSNBC to say it made an error.

The flap was over a press release that MSNBC issued, based on Nielsen data, with the headline “MSNBC’s ‘Hardball’ No. 1 Among Adults in June at 5 p.m.”  

According to the release, Hardball averaged 190,000 adults 25 to 54 in June, beating CNN and Fox News at 5 p.m. in that demographic for the first time since February 2002.

But the announcement immediately drew fire from CNN and Fox News, who charged that MSNBC was using straight 5 p.m. time slot data for June, not data solely for Hardball.

By using the 5 p.m. info, rather than program data, MSNBC was including in its tally special coverage it had aired on Meet the Press moderator Russert’s death and memorial.

Without that special coverage, MSNBC’s numbers drop. Instead, CNN’s Situation Room at 5 p.m. ranked No. 1 in June in the 25-to-54 age group, averaging 186,000 of those watchers, while Fox News’s American’s Election HQ was second with 179,000.  MSNBC’s Hardball was third with 171,000.

An MSNBC spokesman conceded that the network had made an error in including the Russert coverage along with that for Hardball at 5 p.m.

“We used time-period data to calculate our ratings, like we always do. However, had we realized that Hardball wouldn’t have finished No. 1 for the month with the special coverage excluded, we wouldn’t have issued the press release as written,” the MSNBC spokesman said. “It was an error on our part.”

For the second quarter in primetime, Fox News Channel was No. 1 in overall viewers with 1.6 million. CNN placed second with 961,000 and MSNBC third with 690,000.     

For adults 25 to 54 for the second quarter in primetime, Fox News Channel averaged 344,000, CNN had 297,000 and MSNBC averaged 271,000.

With that performance, Fox News regained the top perch among the key news demo, after CNN had vaulted into the spot during the first quarter -- largely on the strength of presidential primary coverage -- for the first time since 2001. In the first quarter, CNN averaged 444,000 adults 25 to 54, compared to 430,000 for Fox News and 325,000 for MSNBC.