The Fox News-CNN War: Does a Picture Pack a Punch?

ByLAURA COVERSON

Feb. 2, 2007 — -- If the Fox News Channel isn't threatened, why does it seem to be on the attack? It's not a question of attack, but "payback" suggests Fox, after a marquee CNN talent took a swipe at the cable news leader. Whether attack or payback, these are the issues swirling around the appearance of a provocative magazine ad placed by Fox News Network and apparently aimed at Anderson Cooper.

That's the question being raised by a provocative magazine ad placed by Fox News that appears to target CNN's Anderson Cooper and his show, "Anderson Cooper 360."

"Meet the Paris Hilton of Television News," the ad's copy reads, boldly sprayed above a rear view of a silver-haired fellow in a good suit. "Style Over Substance. Endless Hype. Media Darling."

And then comes the taunt: "And he still gets beat EVERY NIGHT BY …"

A woman -- Greta Van Susteren -- and her "On the Record With Greta Van Susteren." She's usually tough as nails, but in the Fox News ad she's a vision of serenity staring out at us from the glossy pages. Some say we shouldn't be too surprised by Fox News' tactics.

"Fox News Channel early in their development decided it was going to engage in really tough, in-your-face attacks like this one," said Los Angeles Times' television columnist Scott Collins.

To be sure, there is truth in this advertising.

Susteren's "On the Record" beats Cooper's "360" in the 10 p.m. time slot. The magazine ad boasts, "#1 Show at 10PM/ET."

On Tuesday, for example, "Record" pulled in 343,000 viewers while "360" attracted 290,000.

But raw numbers don't tell the whole story, says J. Max Robins, editor in chief of Broadcasting & Cable magazine.

"Between Greta Van Susteren and Anderson Cooper, there is not a big a gap in the key demographic for advertisers -- the 25- to 54-year-old," he said.

Robins adds that "360" has gained momentum since its debut with Cooper in 2005.

"Fox News had a 174 percent advantage in the 25- to 54-[year-old] demographic then. Now that gap is about 18 percent," he said. "For the fourth month in the row, 'Anderson Cooper 360' is gaining. He's increased 29 percent in total viewers, while GV has declined 7 percent. Fox is right to say they are the leader, but there is some momentum there [for CNN]."

Part of the reason for the CNN surge might have to do with the Hilton-like exposure Cooper enjoyed this past year -- appearances on Oprah Winfrey's talk show, subbing for Regis Philbin on "Live With Regis and Kelly," and being a cover boy for Vanity Fair, not to mention a lot of other ink.

CNN has denied it forked over tens of millions to promote its new star, but it clearly invests in the show and the man.

"Fox had to sit back and watch as Anderson Cooper became a media darling and that creates a perception in the marketplace that he's a winner," said Michael Learmonth of Variety. "Well, he's not really a winner at 10 p.m., and that is what they are trying to point out."

Could there be something other than CNN's updraft that could be fanning the flames? A Fox spokesperson told ABC News: "He threw the first punch."

Last week, presidential candidate Barak Obama went on the attack and denied suggestions that an Indonesian Muslim school he attended as a child could have been a training ground for young terrorists. Fox News ran with the story first reported by Insight magazine, which is owned by the conservative Washington Times.

In a report featured on "360," CNN sent a reporter to the school in Indonesia and exposed the claims as false.

"They didn't check the facts," Cooper said. "We did. … That's the difference between talking about news and reporting it."

After the public dressing down, Fox News spokeswoman Irena Briganti told The New York Times that CNN was mainly looking for publicity.

"Yet another cry for attention by the Paris Hilton of television news, Anderson Cooper," she said.

Another silver-haired CNN-er was in Fox's sights last month as well.

Larry King was the bull's eye in a magazine ad that ran in TV Week and Mediaweek that said, "Congratulations to Larry King for joining Fox News in the Top 15!"

"It's getting a little rougher in cable news right now," Learmonth said. "The different players are taking aim at one another more directly."

A CNN spokesperson told The New York Post's Page Six that the ad attack would not go unanswered and that the cable news network has prepared an "answer," which can be viewed by clicking here.

The public sparring is likely of little consequence to anyone outside the orbit of the media planets, says columnist Scott Collins.

"It's become quaint and old-fashioned to talk about how CNN and Fox are actually covering stories, whether they are doing a good job," he said. "Instead we are all talking about, 'Have you seen the ad?' Who cares? It's ludicrous."

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