Fox News and MSNBC Notch Rating Wins After Trump’s Verdict

The jury was unanimous. But the cable news verdict was a split decision.

Viewers around the country scrambled to their television screens on Thursday to learn the outcome of the Manhattan criminal case against former President Donald J. Trump.

Fox News scored the biggest audience for breaking coverage of the 34 guilty counts, pulling in 4.7 million viewers from 5 to 6 p.m., according to Nielsen. That is a huge viewership for a weekday afternoon and easily outstripped the audiences for CNN, MSNBC and the broadcast networks that cut into regular programming with special reports.

By the evening, after word of the verdict had spread, viewership surged for MSNBC. In an exceedingly rare prime-time victory, the left-leaning channel outranked Fox News, the perennial No. 1 cable news station, in both total viewers and adults ages 25 to 54, the most important demographic for advertisers.

From 8 to 11 p.m., MSNBC programs averaged 3.4 million viewers, edging Fox News’s 3.1 million. CNN averaged 1.3 million.

Many Americans learned the news of the verdict from online sites, email alerts and text messages from family and friends. Still, the size of the audiences on traditional television speaks to the keen interest in the extraordinary scene of a former president’s facing a criminal conviction.

Presidential elections typically generate higher news ratings, but 2024 has bucked that trend. The lack of competition in this year’s early primaries, paired with a looming rematch of the same candidates as four years ago, has provided little benefit to news networks. Many Americans are tuning out political headlines, or feel too fatigued by world events to focus on an election that is still five months away.

How the conviction of Mr. Trump might influence voters’ opinions is one of the first moments of genuine uncertainty in this year’s campaign narrative. Next month also brings a major television moment: the race’s first face-to-face matchup in prime time between Mr. Trump and President Biden, in a CNN debate in Atlanta on June 27.

With the exception of Thursday evening, Fox News dominates its cable news competitors in the Nielsen ratings. The channel said on Friday that it had secured an interview with Mr. Trump to air on Sunday’s edition of “Fox & Friends Weekend.” The taped interview will be conducted by the show’s co-hosts, Will Cain, Rachel Campos-Duffy and Pete Hegseth.

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