CNN Riding Missing Plane to Higher Ratings

CNN is proving that you don't need to report facts to get ratings.

The cable net has seen a ratings bump all because of the mystery of the missing plane. A story that has little facts and a lot of speculation. 

“It is a tremendous story that is completely in our wheelhouse,” said a senior CNN executive, who asked not to be identified defining the network’s strategy for its coverage. CNN’s ratings soared last week and over the weekend, rising by almost 100 percent in prime time. The network even managed the rare feat of edging past Fox News for leadership in several hours.

The New York Times says that last Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, the CNN 8 p.m. program, hosted by Anderson Cooper, beat Fox’s perennial ratings giant, Bill O’Reilly, in the audience that attracts the most revenue for news channels, viewers between the ages of 25 and 54. It was the first time Mr. Cooper has ever topped Mr. O’Reilly in the group for three straight days. (Mr. O’Reilly still won the week in that category.)

CNN also won the 25-to-54 age group from 2 p.m. through 10 p.m. on Saturday, and initial numbers from Sunday indicate the network again led across many of the hours of the day. This is only the case among the specific demographic group preferred by news advertisers; Fox News, as it always does, dominated in terms of total viewers.

“It’s an incredible mystery full of human drama, with an international element,” the senior CNN executive said. “Anything international plays into our hands because we have more reporters to deploy all over the world.”

But the executive acknowledged this was not really a story where reporters have been able to advance the known facts much. Instead, it has been fueled by a lot of expert analysis based on the little verifiable information that has been available, speculation about what might have happened to the plane and where it might be now, accompanied by all the visual pizazz the network can bring to bear.

That has been highlighted by extensive reliance on the reporter Martin Savidge sitting in a flight simulator in Ontario, Canada, as well as the reporter Tom Foreman walking across an animated map of the region displayed on the floor of what CNN calls its “visual room.” At one point the anchor Don Lemon used a toy model of the plane to illustrate a point being made by one of CNN’s aviation experts. During another interview, Mr. Lemon raised the question of whether something otherworldly happened to the plane.

“Especially today, on a day when we deal with the supernatural, we go to church, the supernatural power of God,” Mr. Lemon said. “People are saying to me, why aren’t you talking about the possibility — and I’m just putting it out there — that something odd happened to this plane, something beyond our understanding?”

The bottom line is CNN is going to hop on board the missing plane for as long of a ride as they can.