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Shocking Fox News gains!

Helped by the Chandra Levy mystery, Fox News Channel is continuing its ratings tear, besting CNN for the sixth consecutive month. Fox News' prime time ratings have climbed one tenth of a point each month since the former intern vanished in May.

For July, the five-year-old upstart harvested a 0.8 rating (532,000 viewers), vanquishing both CNN (0.7, but with 580,000 viewers because CNN serves a larger audience) and MSNBC (0.4, 247,000) in prime time, according to Turner Entertainment Research analysis of Nielsen Media Research data. Fox News doubled its prime time ratings from a year ago, growing from a 0.4 in July 2000.

Like other cable news nets, Fox News flourishes when there's a scandal. In February 1998, shortly after the Monica Lewinsky scandal started playing out in the media, Fox News' ratings climbed to a 0.4 for the first time. The 2000 presidential election debacle gave Fox a 1.3 rating in November 2000. And the channel's success as a result of Chandra Levy is no different.

Critics have rebuked Fox News for its sensationalist coverage of Levy, which has even featured psychics working to contact the missing woman. Fox News executive producer Dennis Murray says the channel hasn't lowered its standards.

"Anytime you have a story that's a mystery and doesn't have an ending, people are tuning in," Murray said, adding that two-thirds of Americans have expressed interest in following the Levy case. "If you seem to see a lot of Chandra, it may be a lot over seven hours, but no one watches us for seven hours. They watch for 30 minutes and get a taste."

Also in July ratings, Lifetime Television held onto the top spot in prime time, notching a 2.1, up 24% from June 2000. July marked the women's net's 10th consecutive month of ratings growth.

USA Network saw its prime time ratings slip from a 1.9 in June (good enough to tie Lifetime for the top spot) to a 1.7 in July. USA's ratings are off 23% from last July, when the net garnered a 2.2, the highest rating for that month.

Conversely, The Travel Channel and TNN: The National Network both tallied strong growth since last July. Travel's total-day ratings rose 100%, from a 0.1 (60,000) to a 0.2 (104,000), and 33% in prime time, from a 0.3 (128,000) to a 0.4 (252,000). Bolstered by strong World Wrestling Federation Entertainment ratings, TNN's prime time ratings climbed 67%, from a 0.6 (444,000) to a 1.0 (811,000).