Fox News Channel, Cable News Network and MSNBC are still posting much bigger ratings than usual, but their performances have dropped significantly since the early days of the war in Iraq.
After 15 days of war (through April 2), Fox News is the clear leader, posting a 3.32 total-day average, according to Nielsen Media Research data. CNN trails Fox News, with a 2.78 average, followed by MSNBC's 1.42.
The three all-news networks generated their best ratings when the war began on March 19, with Fox News drawing a 4.5 rating, followed by CNN with a 3.9 and MSNBC with a 1.7. On April 2, the last day that ratings were available, Fox News posted a 2.9 rating, followed by CNN (2.0) and MSNBC (1.1).
Despite the ratings drop from the early days of the conflict, CNN spokeswoman Christa Robinson noted that the network has generated higher ratings than usual.
"We remain in a heightened news environment where CNN's ratings are four times above average," Robinson said.
While MSNBC remains a distant third in the all-news sector, the service emphasized that it was the only one of the group to generate triple-digit increases in viewership during primetime and in total day, among the key adult-25-to-54 demo in the first quarter. MSNBC's performance with that demo jumped 258 percent and 198 percent with the , respective dayparts, compared to first-quarter 2002.
In other developments last week, MSNBC and Fox News engaged in some fire of their own. Last Tuesday, MSNBC aired promos knocking Fox News reporter Geraldo Rivera, who was booted from Iraq after detailing the position of the 101st Airborne Division, the U.S. Army unit he was traveling with.
MSNBC promo said: "We will not compromise military security or jeopardize a single American life."
Fox News fired back the next day, running promos mocking MSNBC for its relationship with Peter Arnett, the veteran war reporter who was dropped March 31 by National Geographic Television and NBC News after he criticized U.S. war plans during an interview with Iraqi TV.
The Fox promo said: "He [Arnett] vilified America's leadership, and he worked for MSNBC. Ask yourself — is this America's news channel?"
Mike Reynolds contributed to this story.