MSNBC Gets Caught Cooking the Books, Has to Recant

What do you do when you just can't win your ratings time slot? Answer: Cook the books. That's what MSNBC tried to do regarding "Hardball with Chris Matthews" and the 5:00pm slot:

CNN and Fox News Channel both pointed out Tuesday that MSNBC included special coverage of Tim Russert’s death and memorial in its June data ratings for Hardball With Chris Matthews – prompting MSNBC to say it made an error.

The flap was over a press release that MSNBC issued, based on Nielsen data, with the headline “MSNBC’s ‘Hardball’ No. 1 Among Adults in June at 5 p.m.”  

According to the release, Hardball averaged 190,000 adults 25 to 54 in June, beating CNN and Fox News at 5 p.m. in that demographic for the first time since February 2002.

But the announcement immediately drew fire from CNN and Fox News, who charged that MSNBC was using straight 5 p.m. time slot data for June, not data solely for Hardball.

By using the 5 p.m. info, rather than program data, MSNBC was including in its tally special coverage it had aired on Meet the Press moderator Russert’s death and memorial.

Without that special coverage, MSNBC’s numbers drop. Instead, CNN’s Situation Room at 5 p.m. ranked No. 1 in June in the 25-to-54 age group, averaging 186,000 of those watchers, while Fox News’s American’s Election HQ was second with 179,000.  MSNBC’s Hardball was third with 171,000.

An MSNBC spokesman conceded that the network had made an error in including the Russert coverage along with that for Hardball at 5 p.m.

But hey, when you're perpetually getting beat by your cable news rivals, you'll do whatever you can, right? This reminds me of a similarly hilarious tidbit from a couple years back when "Countdown's" Keith Olbermann actually ... bragged about winning the -- wait for it -- 12:00am midnight time slot over his competitors at Fox News and CNN! 

Yes indeed, that "coveted" midnight rating.