Cable News Warriors

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As January's cable ratings came out, so did the news networks' claws. By week's end, each was running ads taking potshots at one another.

With the Democrats in control in Congress and the presidential race gaining steam, all three networks saw year-to-year growth for the month. But their ads focused not on that.

Fox News Channel finished as the perennial leader, with 395,000 viewers in news' 25-54 demographic during prime Jan. 1-28, according to Nielsen Media Research.

CNN finished with 263,000 viewers in the demo during prime. MSNBC finished in third with 224,000 viewers in the demo during prime.

Fox News started the week with a trade ad calling CNN's anchor Anderson Cooper the “Paris Hilton of cable news” and touting his competitor in the time period, On the RecordWith Greta Van Susteren. (See Flash, p. 7)

(In the demo at 10 p.m., On the Record averaged 376,000 viewers and Cooper's 360 averaged 318,000 viewers during January.)

CNN, which was was expected to run a print ad of its own Feb. 5, started running ads on last week touting Cooper's reporting on Katrina and Africa. The ad cites his ratings and says he called out Fox News Channel when it “reported irresponsible rumors about Barack Obama's past.” The ad's tagline: “It's Called Journalism.”

Meanwhile, MSNBC, which finished in third but grew the most, started running tongue-in-cheek ads directed at both the other two networks. In MSNBC's TV spots, a confused-looking woman clicks between a faux Fox News talking head and a CNN look­alike dubbed “ZNN.” She eventually finds MSNBC, which “gives you the whole picture.”

As the competition mounts, B&C's Anne Becker talked to MSNBC General Manager Dan Abrams and CNN/U.S. President Jon Klein separately about the ads, the ratings and the state of cable news. Fox News declined to participate.