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Peter Johnson emailed me this afternoon to let me know the USA TODAY decided to run a correction of his column last week which made the erroneous claim that Countdown's ratings had increase 33% since August 30 when Keith first began his series of "special comments". The original column has now been "updated" to reflect the change.
Olbermann Watch readers will recall that last week we called on the paper to run a correction when we learned that the actual figure was 9-14% (it depends on how you define "week" in making the "week to week" comparisons which supposedly formed the basis for the relative increase in Countdown viewership).
I wanted to link the correction here but could not. I was unable to find the correction on usatoday.com and contacted both Johnson and USA TODAY ombudman Brent Jones. I just got off the phone with Jones and learned that USA TODAY's policy is to run a correction in the paper and make a change to the online version of the story with explanation. That seems like an odd policy since it would be pretty simple to include an editor's note next to the web version of the story indicating any changes to the original but that is a battle for another day.
Unfortunately, the "correction" is really only half a correction because Johnson somehow how came up with an 18% increase (more than double the actual). More to the point, the entire premise of the piece is that cable news hosts who "rant" on their shows get big boosts in ratings. That Keith got a SMALL boost in his ratings contradicts the premise.
The real problem is that the "trend" in rant-based ratings growth does not exists. Of the four people mentioned - Lou Dobbs, Bill O'Reilly, Nancy Grace and Keith Olbermann - the only won who really "rants" is Keith. You can possibly make an argument for Grace. At least those two have seen some recent ratings growth. Two of the people mentioned - Dobbs and O'Reilly - have not had any measureable ratings growth recently and have been doing the same schtick for many years. So where's the trend? Simple - there isn't one. Even less so when one of the two examples (Keith) had only a minor increase in ratings. While I'm glad they ran a sorta-correction, either the piece itself should never have run or they should have left Keith out of it.
Johnson assures me that he has no dog in this fight and I believe him. He also says he thinks that MSNBC made an honest mistake. I am willing to believe him. I am not willing to believe MSNBC which has been doing everything it possibly can over the past few years to create the illusion that Countdown has been some sort of ratings success or has some "new" momentum.
As USA TODAY is not pointing out the change online let me direct your attention to the last paragraph of the column which now reads:
Why he won't rant nightly: "Howard Beale (the "I'm not going to take this anymore!" anchor in Network) would come to me and say, 'Back off a little, pal.' " Olbermann's four "special comments" since Aug. 28 have driven ratings up 18% to 476,000. "You can't do it every night. It becomes insincere; people who do it become caricatures of themselves."
I am not sure where that 476,000 figure came from because my calculations show that for the week of 9/18 Keith got 456,000 viewers. The original date used was Aug. 30 which is when the first "special comment" rant; by shifting to Aug. 28 they have now included two days when KO was not even on the air and that were BEFORE the first "special comment". Worse, that week was the week before Labor Day which is traditionally the least watched week of the year. You can read more of what is wrong with this fuzzy math in the original post.
I suppose we should be happy that they at least pulled back on the absurd 33% claim.
BTW - if anyone has today's USA TODAY and can find/scan that correction please email it to me. Thanks!