Fox News Channel may have avenged the loss of Paula Zahn to CNN last week, hiring away CNN legal ace Greta Van Susteren.
Van Susteren, a 10-year veteran of the cable news network, will likely fill Fox News' 10 p.m. slot, Zahn's spot before she scooted to CNN last September to host a new morning show. Van Susteren defected to Fox News last Wednesday, abandoning her position as host of The Point, CNN's second-highest-rated prime time show after Larry King Live.
Sources say Van Susteren, whose contract with CNN would have expired in late March, will earn between $1 million and $1.2 million per year. It's not clear which network made the better offer. CNN says its offer was comparable to Fox News', while Fox News says CNN offered more. CNN may have offered a larger package including stock options and salary, while Fox News put up more salary.
Van Susteren's move was about more than money, though; Fox News sweetened the deal by promising her a higher profile than she had at CNN.
Since Sept. 11, Van Susteren, said to be a favorite of CNN Chairman Walter Isaacson, had emerged as one of CNN's most promoted news stars, putting her in company with Zahn, Aaron Brown, Larry King and Jeff Greenfield. She didn't, however, get the same promotional attention and press coverage as the others. The Fox News stage is considerably less crowded, and Van Susteren may be second only to Bill O'Reilly.
Fox News has been on a ratings high since Sept. 11, notching a 1.4 average in prime time for the fourth quarter and tying CNN's rating for both the fourth quarter and the year (1.0 average for both). CNN, however, outdelivers Fox News in households because of its broader distribution.
This is the second time since Sept. 11 that Fox News has lured away CNN talent. Former Moscow correspondent Steve Harrigan joined Fox News in October while covering the war in Afghanistan for CNN. He had been without a contract since May.
Van Susteren may also be part of Fox's answer to critics who say Fox is too conservative. Van Susteren, who opposed impeachment proceedings against former President Bill Clinton, is Fox News' second liberal-leaning hire in recent months. The first was Geraldo Rivera, who left CNBC to join Fox News as a correspondent in Afghanistan.
CNN plans to keep The Point, rotating guest anchors. CNN Washington correspondent Kate Snow took over hosting duties last week. It was speculated that this week's host would be Anderson Cooper, host of ABC's reality series The Mole
and an ABC News contributor.