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    Olbermann Watch, "persecuting" Keith since 2004

    September 25, 2006
    MSM KO Bandwagon Example #171: USA Today has fun with numbers

    UPDATE: KO's ratings were up 9-14 % not 33 % as claimed in USA TODAY.


    Peter Johnson of USA Today, in his exegisis on rants on cable TV, provides yet another example of how members of the TCA find new ways to work Keith Olbermann into a column/ As usual, the plug comes with yet another formulation of the "Keith's Ratings Are Surging!" line which is apparently required under the TCA charter. This time some cherry-picked numbers are slapped together to produce this gem "Olbermann's four "special comments" since Aug. 30 have driven ratings up 33% to 495,000."

    Let's check the math, shall we?

    According to the always reliable TVNewser, KO had 484,000 viewers on August 30th, the date cited by Johnson. I don't know where he got 495,000 (the piece does not say and I could not find it after skimming TVN). Regardless, 495,000 viewers from the 484,000 on August 3oth is only an increase of 2%. Perhaps he was looking at some recent ratings data? Well, the most recent numbers published when the paper went to bed were those from Sept. 21 (452,000) which is a DECLINE of 7%. Hmmm. Maybe Johnson got this data from the day before? Well that doesn't work either since KO had 414,000 viewers which is a decline of 17%. Maybe this is just special OlbyLoon math where the quotient (Keith's ratings are up 33%) can be "accurate" even when the variables plugged into the equation can be "fake".

    CORRECTION: After exchanging emails with Peter Johnson, I rewrote the opening sentence. It had originally read "Peter Johnson of USA Today finds yet another way to work Keith Olbermann into a TV critic column with his exegisis on rants on cable TV". I agreed that this conveyed the false impression that Johnson had written many other articles on Keith Olbermann. That sentence should have conveyed my belief that Johnson's article contained another example of "Keith Boosting" by the MSM.

    He also passed along the data sent to him by MSNBC's PR department:

    As of September 19, Keith is up +43% in the demo (25-54) and +33% with P2+ since his first rant (which was on August 30). Here are the actual numbers week by week:

    A25-54 P2+
    Wk of 8/21: 149 419
    Wk of 8/28: 169 416
    Wk of 9/4: 187 476
    Wk of 9/11: 213 556
    Wk of 9/18: 180 495

    In my reply to Johnson, after agreeing to edit my post, I wrote "The first set of numbers include two nights when Keith was on vacation and a night when NO ONE was watching much cable news - the Friday before the Labor Day weekend. So, the baseline numbers are "artificially" depressed. If you check you will see that the initial pickup in ratings Keith got from the first "rant" was the following week beginning on that Tuesday after the blue blogs flogged KO's Rummy Rant for several days; if you were to use THAT as a baseline you'd find that Keith has LOST viewers as he has continued to go to the "special comment" well. The last set of numbers is also misleading because they include two heavily promoted "events" one of which was not a rant - KO's bizarre "unacceptable to think" rant on Monday but more importantly his Clinton interview on Friday. I don't have those numbers yet but if 495K is right then by interpolation he got about 618,000 on Friday. Given this, I think it is fair to say that your use of the numbers provided by MSNBC sent are not clear and that those numbers themselves are misleading.

    UPDATE: I just got hold of the Friday numbers for Countdown (424/162) and they tell an interesting tale. I got the first four days of last week from TVN and Friday from a second source. Here they are together:

    424/162 - 9/22 - Fri
    452/148 - 9/21 - Thurs
    415/147 - 9/20 - Wed
    444/187 - 9/19 - Tues
    547/173 - 9/18 - Mon

    If you take the average for all five days you get 456,000 viewers. The 495,000 figure apparently comes from averaging just the first two days of the week. But recall that MSNBC said KO had a 33% increase and based that on comparing week to week data on their note to Johnson.

    The correct comparison would be 456,000 for the week of 9/18 v. 416,000 for the week of 8/30 which means KO had a 9% increase not 33% as claimed. It sure looks like MSNBC attempted to pass off 2 days of ratings data as an average for the full week in order to misrepresent KO's "success" to USA TODAY. I will be asking Johnson to comment further (but it's late so don't expect a reply until tomorrow).

    UPDATE: TVN just posted the Friday numbers and he is reporting a very different number for Friday - 525/174. Now, regular readers will know that we caught Brian fiddling with the ratings data before so there is no telling whether my original source got it wrong, whether Brian got it wrong or whether the discrepency is just a function of the infamous "Live Plus' data issue. Although that is an awfully big difference. But, in either case, I ran those numbers too and they come out to a weekly average of 476.6 which means Keith would be up 14%, still well below the 33% claimed by USA Today.

    UPDATE: Here's how I know I am on to something with these ratings numbers - when Becky at Relevant Torture agrees with me: Except that ratings thing. Countdown's ratings have been the same rollercoaster they've always been since KO has stepped up the "special comments." Sometimes they spike, sometimes they tank. I'm not getting excited about the ratings until the year-to-year comparisons are out.

    Posted by Robert Cox | Permalink | Comments (24) | | View blog reactions


    I won't hold my breath waiting on USA Today to correct themselves. Why is it that whatever Olby says is taken as law when 99.9% of what spews from his mouth is either a lie or a gross exaggeration? Do none of the newspapers or magazines have fact-checkers anymore?

    Gee, an Olbyllon faking numbers to help him out in the PR Wars? Go figure.

    I sent an email to Johnson asking if he could square the numbers for me.

    I also sent him an email this morning asking where did those ratings numbers come from as they did not jive with what I've seen. No response from Johnson as of yet. Imagine that.

    A colleague of Johnson emailed me with a possible explanation - that John was attempting to say "since Aug. 30 when Olbermann began making his series of four special comments the ratings for Countdown are up 33% of this time last year".

    I will wait to see what Johnson has to say for himself but that is certainly not what he wrote. Besides, that is not really my point.

    My point is that pretty much EVERY article about Olbermann picks two numbers that are then used to show that Keith's audience is "surging" or "rising" or "being driven higher" or "reaching new heights". Most of the same articles try to find some way to say that Keith's numbers are competitive some how - they "after O'Reilly he is #2" (in other words, he's third), "beat Zahn in the demo" (in other words, he's third), that he has shown ratings growth while his competitors have fallen (in other words, he's third) and so on.

    I can't recall ever seeing a member of the TCA write an article about Keith that picked two numbers to show that KO's numbers have fallen (for example, from their peak during/after MSNBC airing the winter olympics) or that Keith has been mired in third place every quarter for the past three years or that expresses KO's audience as a share of the total cable viewing audience (tiny).

    Instead we are told that Keith is attracting more young viewers in the demo and that O'Reilly's audience is aging (even through O'Reilly often gets three times KO's numbers in the demo). Or we are told that Keith is "generating a lot of buzz" for some reason or another.

    In short, my point is that most TCA members are Keith's "amen chorus" - and are constantly finding ways to tell their readers to watch KO's show. And, of course, this because they like KO's liberal message. We saw the same thing with Air America Radio.

    For me it is just fun to keep finding instances of what has been a general theme for Olbermann Watch for a long time. Consider this yet another data point in a trend which ought to embarrass those JOURNALISTS who find themselves among FLACKS in the TCA.

    I love this quote about the "Special comments"...

    "You can't do it every night. It becomes insincere; people who do it become caricatures of themselves."

    I think its a little late for that KO became a caricature of himself awhile ago and the check to Bubba was the last straw to any credibility he ever had.


    I like your site, and I drop in from time to time. I tend to post on labor and economics sites where I battle with the liberal mindset regularly.

    The simple explaination is that liberals have decided to completely free themselves from reality and accept that if they "feel" it it must be true and right.

    ----"Hezbollah and AL Queda aren't the terrorists, Bush is the terrorist." "Venezuela and Cuba are the freest, most prosperous democracies in history" "WalMart could pay every employee $15 an hour with full benefits and they would still make plenty of money" "Bush blew up the towers/levees/whatever." "Olbermann's ratings are surging/gaining/crushing the competition!" "Air America is the most succesful radio network ever! And it absolutely doesn't need any money!"

    They aren't even bothering with the facts anymore. Free at last to claim whatever makes them feel good. Even when they cite a source, it always turns out to be funded by the SEIU, or the Economic Policy Institute (rather the marxist policy institute), or Soros. I just had someone point me to a Penn State study that "proves" that cities with a WalMart have more poverty than cities without one. I followed the link and read the study which in fact asserted the very opposite. The verbiage on the site was "Link to this FACT about WalMart here!"

    I'm sure you know all of this. Just wanted to let you know there are more of us out there, shaking our heads in disbelief.

    Johnson probably serves as an intermediary for some PR hack at MSLSD. Maybe he'll get back to you once the clown who made up the numbers tells him what to say.


    I also sent an email to Peter Johnson asking him to explain his findings and believe it or not, I just received this response.

    "I got Countdown numbers directly from MSNBC, who got them from Nielsen. I doubt they'd outight lie but you never can tell"...Peter

    He continued:

    "As of September 19, Keith is up +43% in the demo (25-54) and +33% with P2+ since his first rant (which was on August 30)."

    "Here are the actual numbers week by week:"

    A25-54 P2+
    Wk of 8/21: 149 419
    Wk of 8/28: 169 416
    Wk of 9/4: 187 476
    Wk of 9/11: 213 556
    Wk of 9/18: 180 495

    Robert, since you are the authority on ratings and such, can I get your take on his response.


    His ratings may be up, but hasn't he basically finished FOURTH virtually every night, at least for the last month?

    Somebody is using fuzzy math. 149 -> 180 is not an increase of 43%. An increase of 43% would put it over 210.

    Similarly, 419 -> 495 is not going up 33%. Going up 33% would mean he would be over 550.

    Sorry, Peter. It appears they would outright lie.

    I updated the post above but as you will see I got the same information from him.

    As you can see above, KO's numbers were up 9% from the artificially low baseline they used as a starting point - not 33%.

    So basically KO's gone from a low 4th place to a high 4th place...Way to go KO! :)

    J$ - Ha!! I did not even do THAT calculation. You are right. Even what MSNBC sent to Johnson straight up (419 -> 495) is not going up 33%. The more you look the worse it gets.

    It doesn't matter if his ratings are up, he's still getting his sorry butt kicked by Grace, Zahn, and O'Reilly almost every single night. That's what USA Today should be reporting, not these hyper-inflated numbers that MSNBC is trying to peddle off as fact.

    It's just sloppy reporting. MSLSD sends Johnson propaganda and the dopey hack prints it no questions asked. Most people don't bother to check the numbers (except Robert and JD of course), so this kind of baloney usually goes unnoticed.

    Anyone wondering why Johnson is getting ratings data from MSLSD? Is that an "impartial" source? Doesn't Johnson have raw ratings data at USA today?

    Bottom line is Johnson didn't come up with the story. He was handed the story by MSLSD and he printed it. Most likely they sent the percentages to him and he ate them up. I'd fire Johnson, but at USA Today never fact checking is probably grounds for a promotion.

    Johnson told me that he did not believe that MSNBC would lie about ratings data because it was so easily fact-checked.

    I would argue that a TV critic at a major paper ought to be able to get his data direct from the source - Nielsen - but even if he is going to rely on his subject as his source (a questionable practice) how about taking 10 seconds to do the math yourself instead of relying on MSNBC's "summary" of the data?

    In this case, the data AND the "summary" were wrong. So, now what? Maybe they run a correction but the story has already run and the OlbyLoons will run around quoting USA Today. And, as J$ noted the other day - the myth continues.

    At least Johnson came clean. Now all he has to do is learn how to do his job and he's all set.


    I hope you let Mr Johnson know that in the future, if he decides to incorporate cable ratings, especially KO, into his columns, he should feel free to contact you as a source...vbg

    Johnson told me that he did not believe that MSNBC would lie about ratings data because it was so easily fact-checked. In light of what happened here that seems somewhat ironic because their claim of +33% was easily fact-checked by Johnson if he had cared to take the time to divide 495 by 416.

    I would argue that a TV critic at a major paper ought to be able to get his data direct from the source - Nielsen - but even if he is going to rely on his subject as his source (a questionable practice) how about taking 10 seconds to do the math yourself instead of relying on MSNBC's "summary" of the data?

    In this case, the data AND the "summary" were wrong. So, now what? Maybe they run a correction but the story has already run and the OlbyLoons will run around quoting USA Today. And, as J$ noted the other day - the myth continues and Olbermann Watch stays on the hunt.

    A correction certainly needs to be done but I'm guessing it won't be. And people want to know we believe the media is liberally biased? Because of incidents just like this one, where facts or overlooked and sloppy writing and research rules the day.

    Just out of curiosity I did Bill's #'s for the same 2 weeks. He was 390 1716 the week of 8/28 and 469 1982 in the week of 9/18 That would be +17% in the demo and +14% total

    Just out of curiosity I did Bill's #'s for the same 2 weeks. He was 390 1716 the week of 8/28 and 469 1982 in the week of 9/18 That would be +17% in the demo and +14% total


    That is an excellent point! Good work.

    I sent Johnson another email requesting that he either publish a correction or put me in touch with his editor. No reply yet.