Crooked Scream

Early Thursday afternoon The Washington Post’s Howard Kurtz, referring to John Kerry’s off the cuff remarks to a group of workers in Chicago, posed the question, “Is John Kerry’s muttered aside the new Dean Scream?”

Answering his own query Kurtz wrote, “This may not amount to a hill of beans in the long run.” But, he added, Kerry’s acid comment, spoken into a mic he did not know was live, “could echo quite loudly for the next few news cycles,” overshadowing the news Kerry intended to make by meeting with former candidate Howard Dean.

Curious to see if Kurtz might be on to something, we turned to our trusty tool TV Eyes (see advertisement on the right) and peeked in on the networks. We wanted to know exactly how many times the three cable news networks aired the Kerry clip, in which he was caught saying, in what he now says was a reference to Republican attack dogs, that “[t]hese guys are the most crooked, you know, lying group.”

Between 2:00 p.m. Wednesday and 4:30 p.m. Thursday, CNN and Fox News Channel each showed their audiences the Kerry remark, complete with audio and video, 16 separate times. This averages to about one viewing per every hour and forty-two minutes, which, given that these are 24-hour news operations, isn’t all that egregious.

But, then we checked in on MSNBC. In the same time period, that struggling operation (in terms of viewers) ran the clip 29 separate times, almost as often as CNN and Fox News put together. That’s more than once every hour; at one point this morning MSNBC aired the clip at 9:00 a.m., 9:10 a.m., and 9:20 a.m.

Circling back to Kurtz’s original question, “Is John Kerry’s muttered aside the new Dean Scream?” for now, the answer seems to depend on how many Americans are watching MSNBC. And according to a recent ratings report, the answer is, not many. In 2003 Fox led prime-time ratings with 1,706,00 viewers, CNN scored second with 1,095,000 viewers, and MSNBC finished in a distant third with 443,000 viewers.

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Thomas Lang was a writer at CJR Daily.