CNN, FOX News and various other media outlets (including the highly respected Diane Rehm of NPR) committed the cardinal sin of journalism when the Supreme Court announced its decision on the constitutionality of the Affordable Health Care Act, aka ObamaCare. They rushed so fast to report the decision that they got it wrong; not just on one detail, but the entire story. They reported the exact opposite of what happened. A journalism professor in college used to tell me over and over, “Get it right, try to get it first, but get it right first!”
CNN’s only excuse is that SCOTUS Chief Justice John Roberts threw the media a hard-biting, 12 to 6 curve ball. He started to announce the decision by saying the government cannot force people to buy health insurance. With that, the media was off to the races to report that Obamacare has just been struck down. Problem is, Roberts went on to say that Congress does have the power to tax and therefore can “tax” or penalize people who don’t buy a health plan. The the personal mandate and Obamacare in general was upheld as constitutional.
This is CNN’s excuse:
“In his opinion, Chief Justice Roberts initially said that the individual mandate was not a valid exercise of Congressional power under the Commerce Clause. CNN reported that fact, but then wrongly reported that therefore the court struck down the mandate as unconstitutional. However, that was not the whole of the Court’s ruling. CNN regrets that it didn’t wait to report out the full and complete opinion regarding the mandate. We made a correction within a few minutes and apologize for the error.” Yeah, ok.
Sure, it sounded like Chief Justice Roberts was about to announce the law was unconstitutional and he is a Republican-nominated conservative. But we in the media should all learn from today—it’s not worth trying to be a few seconds ahead of the competition in reporting breaking news especially in the “immediate” nature of news reporting of today.
Here is the video of CNN and FOX News scrambling and getting it wrong.
Lane Filler of (New York) Newsday asks an interesting question: Does anyone remember who first reported any SCOTUS decision including this one? How about the death of Osama bin Laden? The attack on the World Trade Center? The death of Princess Diana? The death of Saddam Hussein? Filler argues, no, people don’t remember. They remember the event for sure. They remember where they were when they got the news but not what media provided it. Bottom line? It’s simply not worth getting the story wrong in an attempt to get the story out first.
And for pure fun, there’s always Jon Stewart and the Daily Show: