Is the Entwistle murder saga the biggest story of this or any other time? That was the rather overheated question tonight on “My TV Prime,” a New Hampshire talk show hosted by Democratic politico Deborah “Arnie” Arnesen. I was a guest along with Boston Herald columnist Margery Eagan (sub. req.) and defense attorney John Swomley. Just as Eagan and I were wrapping up, we disagreed. “Take it outside,” Arnesen instructed us. So here I go.
I expressed the opinion that stories such as Entwistle are obsessively followed by just a small subset of viewers who gorge on cable news programs — and that, therefore, the end of civilization is not at hand. No, I heard Eagan say as we were fading out; the ratings for those shows are “huge.”
Well, then. Here are the audiences for such shows on Wednesday night (a big Entwistle night), as reported by the redoubtable TVNewser:
- Nancy Grace, CNN Headline News, 8 p.m., 545,000
- Rita Cosby, MSNBC, 9 p.m., 346,000
- Greta Van Susteren, Fox News, 10 p.m., 1.26 million
Not chickenfeed. But the combined audience for the three network nightly newscasts is more than 20 million, and it can approach 30 million when there’s major news breaking. The Tyndall Report right now is a bit behind, but Entwistle was pretty big news at the beginning of February, which is when it gathered its most recent numbers. Yet it didn’t even move the needle on the nets.
Similarly, NPR claims that its drive-time newscasts, “Morning Edition” and “All Things Considered,” are the second- and third-most-listened-to radio programs in the United States. And NPR has not exactly been a bastion of Entwistle excess.
So I’ll stick with what I said: Though there’s undoubtedly more Entwistle coverage out there than is absolutely necessary, it is primarily a phenomenon of low-rated cable news shows that get far more attention from media-watchers than they deserve given their small audiences.
Anyone who’s watching Entwistle coverage rather than presumably more nutritious fare is doing so by choice.