LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - President George W. Bush's latest address to the nation, urging Americans to stand firm in Iraq, drew the smallest TV audience of his tenure, Nielsen Media Research reported on Wednesday.
Live coverage of Bush's half-hour speech on Tuesday night from the Ft. Bragg military base in North Carolina averaged 23 million viewers combined on four major U.S. broadcast networks and three leading cable news channels, Nielsen said.
Designed largely to bolster sagging public support for the persistently bloody conflict in Iraq, the speech fell 8.6 million viewers shy of Bush's previous low as president, his Aug. 9, 2001 address on stem cell research, which was carried on six networks.
Even Bush's last prime-time address, his April 28 speech on Social Security overhaul, drew more viewers: 32.7 million.
Bush garnered the biggest U.S. TV audience of his presidency -- 82 million viewers on nine networks -- when he addressed a joint session of Congress nine days after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on America.
By comparison, his May 1, 2003, speech from the deck of an aircraft carrier declaring an end to major combat operations in Iraq averaged 48.4 million viewers.
Television viewing levels in general drop off during the summer months, and the second most-watched telecast on Tuesday night was a repeat edition of a "48 Hours Mystery" on CBS, which averaged just 7.4 million viewers.
CBS also accounted for the biggest share of Bush's audience on Tuesday night, with more than 5.5 million tuning in to the Viacom Inc.-owned network to watch the president.
But No. 2 NBC, which ran a full 30 minutes of post-speech analysis, led the networks in that half hour with nearly 5.3 million viewers. Its rivals switched back to entertainment programming for most of that half hour and drew smaller audiences.
Three of the major broadcast networks -- CBS, NBC and Fox -- did not decide until the day of the speech to carry it. ABC announced on Monday that it would cover the address.