The Arizona shootings sent millions of viewers scurrying to cable news channels last weekend. By 4 p.m. Eastern time, a couple of hours after a gunman opened fire at Rep. Gabrielle Gibbons' town-hall meeting in Tucson, an audience of more than 5.2 million had tuned into Fox News, CNN and MSNBC.
Fox News (which led in viewers) nearly doubled its average audience from the previous Saturday. CNN (in second place) more than doubled its audience. At third-place MSNBC, which averaged less than half a million viewers throughout the day, it was a very different story; the audience actually declined 1 percent from the previous week.
Here's an educated guess about what happened: When viewers turned in Fox News, they saw veteran reporters like Bill Hemmer, Megyn Kelly and Shep Smith anchoring. The same on CNN, with Martin Savidge, Don Lemon and Wolf Blitzer taking turns in the chair. But at MSNBC the coverage was anchored by talk-show yammerers Olbermann and Ed Schultz. When big news breaks, that's not what viewers want.