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Fox News rises to top of basic cable rankings during busy news week

January 26, 2010 |  8:40 am

Bret Baier

Fox News is continuing to knock down competitors: The latest is USA, which is usually comfortably ensconced at the top of the list of the most-watched basic-cable networks. But last week, Fox News bumped it down to second place as the cable-news channel logged the most viewers in prime time: 3.21 million to USA’s 3.19 million. This is the first time Fox News has been in first place since the week of the 2008 presidential election.

Its victory was due in part to the massive audience that tuned in to watch the cable-news network’s coverage of the Jan. 19 special election to fill the U.S. Senate seat in Massachusetts. More than 6 million viewers watched Fox News in prime time, its biggest audience since the 2008 election night. Top-ranked host Bill O’Reilly also enjoyed particularly robust ratings last week: The commentator drew 4.8 million viewers on Jan. 21, beating out three of NBC’s prime-time shows. And Glenn Beck pulled in his biggest audience ever on Jan. 22, logging almost 4 million viewers.

Fox News’ win came during a busy news week, when the majority of coverage on cable news was devoted to the Massachusetts Senate race and the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti, according to an analysis by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. The project found that CNN spent far more time on Haiti than its cable-news rivals, turning over 67% of prime time to coverage of the devastation there, according to Tom Rosenstiel, PEJ’s director. Fox News devoted 16% of prime time to covering the story, while MSNBC spent 11% of its news hole on the topic.

-- Matea Gold

Photo: Fox News anchor Bret Baier anchored coverage of the U.S. Senate election in Massachusetts. Credit: Fox News