Jeff Zucker resigned as president of CNN on Feb. 2 and, following his unceremonious ouster, many were left to wonder what a post-Zucker CNN might look like. While it’s still too early to say anything definitively, there is one indication that CNN could be less focused on covering its competitor Fox News going forward.

Effective coverage of Fox News has always been a conundrum for CNN. During the Donald Trump administration, many opinion hosts on Fox News openly parroted the president’s political rhetoric and conspiracy theories. Some even maintained a close but informal advisory role with Trump.

Zucker saw that as a major story. He condemned Fox News as “state-run television” — a claim not that far off given the cozy relationship Trump had with, say, Sean HannityLaura Ingraham, and many Fox News executives, like Bill Shine, who eventually worked in the Trump White House. And Zucker’s views of CNN’s competitor permeated throughout the network, which dedicated significant coverage to Fox.

But how does a rival network report the political rhetoric of a competitor without promoting the competitor? If the consistently absurd and asinine comments made by Tucker Carlson are covered regularly on CNN, eventually many viewers are going to tune into Fox News at 8 p.m. to see what he’s saying. In fact, a recent Nielsen/MRI poll showed that more young democrats tune into Tucker Carlson Tonight over any other show.

But according to transcripts, there has been something of an editorial shift since Feb. 2 when Jeff Zucker left CNN’s Hudson Yards offices for the last time as the network’s president.

In January, CNN mentioned “Fox” on-air an average of 100 times per week. But in the first three weeks of February, the average number of “Fox” mentions dwindled by two-thirds down to 34. If one looks at average daily mentions, Fox was uttered roughly 13 times per day from Jan. 1 to Feb. 2, and five times per day, on average, since.

TVEyes is a television transcript database, and for the purpose of this search, I used just the term “Fox”. So some caveats: this research endeavor does not take into account any news about other items named “fox” like the woodland creatures or, say Fox Searchlight movie studios. CNN reporter Lauren Fox was also likely included in the results, but one can reasonably assume that these outliers have been evenly spread across all seven weeks of the young year.

Has Fox News been less newsworthy of late? Maybe, except of course last week when the network went all-in on a false charge of Hillary Clinton being caught spying on Trump, a story that many on Fox claimed was “worse than Watergate.”

Under Zucker, this would have been a perfect story for CNN to cover. It was clearly bad journalism, the sort that Brian Stelter, Brianna Keilar, and Jim Acosta often revel in calling out, presumably to the delight of their viewers. But the coverage was remarkably muted, perhaps even refreshingly so?

This brings us back to the challenge that CNN faces in covering Fox News. They aren’t true competitors, firstly. Fox News dominates ratings, but in part, because it is less committed to the truth than it is making partisan attacks. It’s a strange, partisan lifestyle channel packaged as news. While Fox sometimes DOES cover the news, CNN boasts a much stronger news-gathering operation — though it has leaned into more left-of-center opinion programming in recent years.

As I have written before, CNN’s challenge with covering Fox News is one of tone. When CNN hosts push back on personal, often ugly, attacks they get from Fox News hosts and do so with the same level of bombast (plus sanctimony), it’s a turn-off for viewers eager to consume proper news. Fox News has successfully pulled some CNN hosts into a pro-wrestling dynamic that has hurt CNN far more than Fox.

I believe CNN should continue to cover Fox News, particularly now that their commitment to the truth seems to have ebbed dramatically. But it should do so in a manner that is consistent with the journalistic standards it aims to upheld: with a dispassionate tone completely devoid of the sanctimony that I believe has hurt their ratings.

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