Open Mike


McLaughlin's Camp Fires Back

Editor: In your contrived comparison of the parvenu Chris Matthews against the veteran John McLaughlin ("Changing of the Guard," 6/28, page 3), we are happy to see that the McLaughlin gold standard remains the classic benchmark against which aspiring talk-show hosts are graded.

Let's see whether your piece can be remedied with a dose of accuracy, using chiefly Nielsen's overnights January-June '04.

The McLaughlin Group (TMG) has two commercial markets, Washington and New York. In Washington, the cumulative household rating is 8.1. For Matthews it is 4.0. In the New York DMA, McLaughlin's average household rating is 7.4 (which includes N.Y. PBS viewership) compared to Matthews' 3.7.

airs nationally on 320 PBS stations. The program is broadcast 418 times weekly in 173 markets, available in 98% of the PBS households (106,232,000), with an average household rating of 1.18, delivering 1,253,500 households. These are weekly numbers and include multiple broadcasts on the same station for unique audiences.

McLaughlin's cumulative national viewership is enlarged by 180,150 households in Washington and 545,800 NBC and PBS households in the New York DMA, totaling a commercial/PBS weekly viewership of 1,714,000 households. With 2.54 people per household, McLaughlin's estimated weekly audience is 4,353,600. According to his own Web site, Matthews airs once on each of 162 stations. His total viewership, as stated by B&C, is "about" 2,700,000. These figures speak for themselves.

As for B&C's conclusion that the McLaughlin Group is losing "its key timeslot in New York" at 10 a.m. after Sunday Today, for Matthews' timeslot of 11:30 after Meet the Press, kindly note that McLaughlin inherits a 2.7 rating from Sunday Today and builds it to a 3.8, whereas Matthews inherits a 5.16 from Meet the Press and plunges it to a 3.74.

Yet B&C would have us believe that, when McLaughlin is moved from his current 10 a.m. timeslot to Matthews' 11:30 timeslot, McLaughlin is suffering "an indignity." Should McLaughlin be grieving over a 5.16 lead in instead of a 2.7? Hello.

The true story may be that Matthews is seen as not pulling what he should at 11:30, so McLaughlin has been rushed to the scene to rescue the noon and afternoon NBC schedule.

In sum, McLaughlin remains the vital national political talk-show franchise.

Once every four years, a spasm of feverish cant breaks out about McLaughlin "sinking" or "fading." Well, when the next attack occurs, we'll just wait for Pat, Eleanor, Tony, Lawrence, Clarence, Mort and the standard bearer himself to take the air out of that latest rigged balloon.

Katherine Hudson, Director of marketing and business affairs, The McLaughlin Group, Washington

Give PrimeTime a Chance

Editor: I thought I should answer your editorial regarding the return of That Was the Week That Was as a show-ender on ABC News' PrimeTime Live
beginning this September ("Real News and Bad Jokes," 7/12, page 38). As you criticized the mere concept—months before it's even on the air—I thought I would at least respond to your closing suggestion that we instead "spend those precious network minutes reporting on things that actually matter."

As one who spent weeks researching the project, I can promise you that, historically, what became known as TW3
mattered. Sir David Frost, who launched the BBC show (as well as the American version), recently reminded me that "one guy lost his seat in Parliament as a result of That Was the Week That Was." The program also skewered the British Parliament when it was discovered, during the height of the Cold War and development of atom bombs, they'd built a bomb shelter—for themselves. That mattered a lot.

It was Frost who reinforced my decision to inject some political and social satire into the end of our broadcast "because irreverence is a healthy quality to have in any society." In fact, I think you'll find it in most newspaper editorial pages and a few network news programs already. And during a time when the New York Times is questioning its own lack of journalistic skepticism and during a time when there is an on-going debate regarding the blurred lines of journalism and patriotism, it is a simple choice to say: Let's look at our reporting for a brief moment, through a different lens, that lens of satire.

So before any more judgments are made that this idea should be "left on the cocktail napkin it was scribbled on," please tune in. And not for just one night, for a few. Let the new PrimeTime Live emerge, take some bold new steps with a new vitality, a new anchor team, a new investigative reporting team, and, yes, a new TW3 girl, who will sing at the end of the show in a black cocktail dress and send you off with a 1:30's worth of food for thought.

Shelley Ross, Executive producer, PrimeTime Live

RTNDA Fighting for Free Speech

Editor: I read with interest your July 5 editorial "The Censors are Coming!" (page 20) and could not agree more with your statement that "Few Independence Days have found the media less independent." I too have been troubled by the seeming lack of recognition by the public that, when the media's rights are curtailed, their rights as citizens are curtailed.

In making your point about the need to combat government attempts to infringe on First Amendment rights, you mention seminars that the Radio-Television News Directors Association (RTNDA) will hold for journalists about how to cover terror attacks. The editorial goes on to say, "We'd feel a lot better if, when not attending seminars, more journalists would be pressing for access to government information being denied in the name of that very same homeland security."

I hope that by segueing from RTNDA's planned seminars to an apparent criticism of journalists' role or lack thereof in fighting government restrictions on access, you did not mean to suggest that RTNDA itself has not been committed to preserving freedom of information. The truth is, in addition to providing educational programs for electronic journalists, RTNDA is and has been a leader in the fight to preserve First Amendment rights, whether the government is seeking to subjugate those rights in the name of homeland security, vague notions of safeguarding personal privacy, or protecting children.

Kathleen A. Kirby, Counsel, Radio-Television News Directors Association, Washington