While most news outlets offered only intermittent reports on Carnival Triumph's limping, smelly progress toward Mobile, Alabama on Thursday, CNN decided to go with wall-to-wall coverage of the final scenes of the maritime mess. The network rented a helicopter and a boat to track the cruise ship's journey toward the port and sent "a legion" of reporters to hear traumatized passengers' tales of unbearable heat, food shortages, admirably professional crew members, and, of course, the "toxic hallways" full of urine and poop. As Friday's Nielsen ratings demonstrate, their focus on the story paid off:
At noon on Thursday, CNN started covering the ship to the exclusion of most other stories. For the whole day CNN had an average of 632,000 viewers watching at any given time, up about 50 percent versus typical Thursdays this year. MSNBC had 535,000, down slightly. Fox News remained on top with 1.38 million, up slightly.
The same was true in prime time, when the ship neared the port of Mobile. CNN had an average of 1.03 million viewers at any given time from 8 to 11 p.m., up 62 percent versus typical Thursdays this year. MSNBC had fewer — 867,000 — and Fox had more, 2.14 million. Those two channels mostly stuck with their regular lineups until the ship was within sight of the port of Mobile.
CNN's ratings feat was achieved amid criticism from the chattering class. MSNBC's Joe Scarborough called out the network for ignoring developments in Syria and the Senate battle over secretary of Defense nominee Chuck Hagel to "[tell us] that this cruise ship was the only story that mattered yesterday for 24 hours," while Jon Stewart complained about "the wall-to-shit-covered-wall coverage." But, as we can see, the viewers didn't seem to mind — and viewers are what new CNN head Jeff Zucker is after. So, the next time something gross happens, you know where to tune in.